With six games remaining in their 2015-2016 campaign, the Boston Bruins have pivotal match-ups with postseason repercussions ahead of them.
This past Tuesday, it appeared that the Bruins could still potentially miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While that still cannot be ruled out, Boston has a schedule down the stretch that should enable them to avoid missing out on the postseason for the second season in a row.
After their west coast nightmare, the Bruins dropped two games straight. All of the worry and concern about the team looked to be hitting a peak. With the Red Wings breathing down their neck they floundered against the Rangers and Panthers. The B’s losing streak would reach five games. During this five game losing streak they would only score six goals while allowing eighteen.
Bruins could miss the playoffs. Seriously https://t.co/ErhXemuyv4
— Matt Pepin (@mattpep15) March 26, 2016
Friday night, Boston traveled to Toronto to take on the the weak Maple Leafs. Toronto is currently in the cellar of the Atlantic Division but had won six of their last eight games before playing Boston. In the first period it looked like the Bruins might be heading to their sixth straight defeat, falling behind 1-0 early in the contest. However, Toronto’s goal would be the only shot that Tuukka Rask failed to stop. The Bruins would turn their game around and put away three unanswered goals to break their long losing streak with a 3-1 victory.
The Bruins simply got the job done against an opponent that any playoff caliber team should beat. While the victory was long awaited, it doesn’t ease the pressure on the club heading down the stretch. The best news for the Bruins on Saturday was a 7-2 Pittsburgh Penguins thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings.
— Damian Echevarrieta (@Ech28) March 27, 2016
In the NHL playoffs, the top three teams in each division are guaranteed a playoff spot. The final two wildcard positions in the east are available to whichever teams obtain the highest points but remain out of the top three seeds in their division’s standings.
With only six games remaining, the Bruins (88 points) are three points behind the Lightning (91 points) for second place in the Atlantic Division. They trail the Panthers (93 points) for 1st place by five points. The only team that can knock the Bruins out of 3rd place is the Red Wings. If the Bruins did fall behind the Red Wings in the Atlantic Division point race, they would have to make the postseason via wildcard bid. With seven games left for Detroit, they have one more game remaining in the regular season than Boston. The Bruins (88 points) currently maintain a three point edge over the Wings (85 points) for third place.
If the Bruins fell out of third place, they would have to worry about battling for a wildcard position between the Penguins (90 points), Islanders (89 points), and Flyers (85 points). If the Bruins were in the Metropolitan Division, they would currently be in the last wildcard position.
Luckily for Claude Julien and company, the Red Wings have not been hot as of late. They have gone 5-5 in their last ten games. Detroit failed to take advantage of Boston’s horrible stretch of hockey. The second place Lightning have also not been playing well and have matched the Bruins record of 4-5-1 over the last ten games.
Looking at the upcoming schedule, the Bruins have three road games in a row. Luckily they have been very strong away from the TD Garden this season. The first match-up is in New Jersey against the Devils. In their last two games they have played playoff caliber teams well, defeating the Penguins 3-0 and losing a close 1-0 game to the Capitals. After battling against the Devils, the B’s travel to St Louis to play the Blues. Ken Hitchcock’s team is currently at the top of the Central Division. They also have some of the top offensive players in the league. Then it’s on to Chicago to play Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks. Any game against the high flying Hawks is a big challenge. This upcoming three game stretch will be one of the most important portions of the season.
After playing the Hawks the schedule is a little more favorable. They will be done on the road for the season and host three games at the Garden to finish up. The first game in the home stretch would be against the Hurricanes. Not a very good team this season in any way at all, but they defeated the Bruins in Boston just seven games ago. That defeat should be enough inspiration for victory by itself. Depending on how well both the Bruins and Wings finish, April 7th could be the most pivotal game of the season for both teams. They face each other at the Garden in what will be the Bruins second to last game of the regular season. Then two days later the Ottawa Senators come to town for game number eighty two.
Out of the six remaining games, the first trio is away and the following trio is at home. Three of the teams (Hurricanes, Devils, Senators) are definitely not making the playoffs. The other three (Blues, Blackhawks, Wings) are either definitely in or battling to make it. One concerning factor is that the Red Wings schedule isn’t exactly challenging down the stretch. They have slightly more favorable match-ups than the Bruins.
The battle for playoff contention will come down to whichever team finds a way to win and play with passion, heart down the stretch. The Wings will not be without motivation. If they do not make the playoffs it would be the first time in twenty four seasons- an incredible statistic.
Even though it appears likely that the Bruins will lock up a playoff spot, they have not played consistent hockey for the last month or so. These six games will be an important opportunity to build momentum entering the playoffs. If the team limps to the finish line they will be in serious risk of being kicked to the curb early in the playoffs regardless of where they finish.