As the NHL enters the final two weeks of the regular season, playoff berths are being clinched and teams are being eliminated from contention. However, for a select group of teams, their postseason aspirations will be determined in the final days of competition. These teams fight tooth and nail for final wild card seeds, or depending on the circumstances, potentially even the third seed in their division.
Anyone who watched the B’s during these times knows that they didn’t just get the short end of the stick, they gave to themselves. Last season was the epitome of this when the Bruins had their playoff fate in their own hands, and they threw it all away in the form of 6-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators.
Going into that day the Bruins needed the Detroit Red Wings to lose to the New York Rangers. If that happened all the Bruins had to do was beat Ottawa, a team that wasn’t making the playoffs and was essentially still playing for the sole purpose of being the spoiler of someone else’s season.
Sure enough the Red Wings lost to the Rangers, one of the few times you’ll see a Boston sports fan congratulating a New York sports fan on the play of their team. However, the Bruins dropped the ball, and gained zero points from their game against the Senators. They did not pass Detroit, who extended their playoff-appearance streak to twenty-five seasons, and they certainly did not pass go and collect their two hundred dollars and a ticket to the NHL postseason.
No surprise the Bruins are right back in the position they know all too well about. At 84 points with seven games remaining, the Bruins could end at most with with 98 points. That is if they go on a 7-game winning streak to finish the regular season. With playoff teams such as Washington, Chicago, Nashville and the infamous Ottawa Senators still on their plate, those odds don’t look too good for the B’s.
I’m not here to make every Bruins fan feel like they’re looking at another NHL postseason without Boston. In fact, looking at the schedules of the teams competing against Boston, there certainly is hope.
I have highlighted four other teams in the playoff picture with the Bruins, in hopes of shedding some light on the situation. Those teams are the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and, again, the Ottawa Senators. Two of those four teams, the Maple Leafs and Senators, are ahead of the Bruins. Two are behind them, the Islanders and Lightning.
There are three playoff seeds to share between five teams, and the Islanders are at the disadvantage because they can only fight for one of those three seeds due to the fact that they are not in the Atlantic Division. The only seed open to the Islanders is the second wild card seed, as they are all but mathematically eliminated from catching the next best team in the Metropolitan Division, their rivals the New York Rangers, who sit firmly in the first wild card seed.
So here it is, a breakdown of the final two weeks for each of the teams competing for a spot in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Upon the completion of Monday night’s games, the Bruins have seven games remaining and 84 points, currently sitting in the second wild card seed. Toronto has eight games remaining and 85 points, sitting in the third spot in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa has eight games remaining and 90 points, and sits in the second spot in the Atlantic Division. In this position it is unlikely any of the teams below Ottawa manage to catch them, however I am not ruling out that possibility just yet.
The Lightning have seven games remaining and 83 points, which puts them out of the playoffs by only one point. The Islanders have seven games remaining as well, but 82 points, putting them two points away from a tie with Boston for the final playoff spot.
While the Islanders can only qualify for the playoffs by grabbing the second wildcard spot, their schedule seems to be sympathetic. In the Islanders’ final seven games they only play two games against teams that are currently in the playoff structure: Ottawa and Nashville. Every other team being looked at here plays at least three teams that would be in the postseason if it started right now. Boston and Toronto not only have to play four of their remaining games against teams currently in the playoffs, they each also play Tampa Bay, who is a desperate team with nothing to lose, that is fighting for its playoff life. Teams like Tampa you expect to be as hungry to win as one of the top teams competing for the President’s Trophy.
Here is a table that I hope will make everything more clear.
GP = Games Played Pts = Total Points
Back to where I think everyone will end up. I say Ottawa holds on to the second seed in the Atlantic. I think the Islanders, despite their less challenging schedule, will miss the playoffs along with the Lightning. The Islanders lost to the Bruins 2-1 on Saturday and again to the Predators 3-1 Monday night. Despite the talent the Islanders do have, most notably in their captain, John Tavares, they still lack depth.
Tampa Bay has been missing their Captain Steven Stamkos since he went down with a torn meniscus back in November. Despite losing their star player Tampa has still managed to get themselves to the brink of playoff contention. But while a late season return from Stamkos doesn't seem likely, and center Tyler Johnson is still out with a lower-body injury suffered on March 9, Tampa is largely at a disadvantage. However I do suggest keeping an eye on the Bolts. As they are on a three game winning streak, which includes most recently a 5-4 OT win against the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night.
The toughest decision for me is placing the Bruins and Maple Leafs, who both have challenging schedules. As much as Bruins fans don’t want to see it happen, I think the Bruins take the second wild card seed and Toronto holds onto third in the Atlantic.
The second wildcard is undesirable due to the fact that it puts the team that lands in its spot against the best team in the Eastern Conference, which is a nightmare for any team in the league. The Metropolitan Division has been a powerhouse this year, as anyone who has been following the NHL knows. The fourth place team in the Metropolitan, the New York Rangers, have 96 points. That is enough to be leading the Atlantic Division, if they were part of that group of teams.
Of course it is not the ideal situation for the Bruins, but after missing the postseason two consecutive years, fans are just hungry to see their team compete past the beginning of April again. In 2012, the LA Kings took down the first, second and third place seeds in the Western Conference to make it to the Stanley Cup and eventually win, all starting as the eighth place seed.
Can the Bruins get past the first round if they get in? Crazier things have been done. Either way, the focus for this team was never winning the Stanley Cup, that has been a long shot since the beginning of the season. What is important is that the team get on the right track going into the summer, hopefully giving their fans some postseason hockey to enjoy first. There is a lot to like about this team going into the future, and I think the next few years are promising for the Black and Gold.
Photo: (CBS Boston)