The Race is On

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(Above Photo Credit:  cbc .com)

By Spencer Lindsay

Follow me on Twitter @suspenceful9

With 12 wins in their last 16 games, the Bruins are cruising toward a playoff berth. Following a 6-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks, the Bruins traveled to Calgary and faced a team that is currently even hotter than they are. Heading into that game Calgary was 10-0-0, but the Bruins prevented the 11th win by playing a solid 60-minute game. Unfortunately, the Bruins couldn’t keep the good times rolling on the back end of a back to back set of games against a fast Edmonton team, and dropped that with a score of 7-4. With 11 games left in the regular season, and 3 teams hot on their heels, the margin of error is slim for the Black and Gold. Every point will matter. Soon stats like ROW are going to become relevant again, as games played is no longer an adequate tie breaker once every team in the league has played 82. So, let’s take a look at those three teams chasing the Bruins, and see how they can potentially affect the B’s.

Toronto is the team that has been either right behind, tied with, or barely ahead of the Bruins all season. Their appearance on this list shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. The other two, however, may come as a surprise to anyone not closely following this playoff race. Tampa Bay has somehow clawed their way back into playoff contention, despite injuries to key players and movement of others to different teams in the league at the deadline. In the last two years, Tampa has been a powerhouse in the Eastern Conference. Appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015 where they lost to Chicago, and in the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual Stanley Cup winner, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The feeling in Tampa is if they can just make it into the playoffs, they could really do some damage.

The last team on my list is the New York Islanders. For most of the season, the Islanders were seemingly irrelevant. They were basement dwellers in a strong Metropolitan division until they fired their head coach and went on a bit of a tear to turn their season around. Sound familiar?

Coincidentally, the Bruins happen to play each of these teams at least once more, with two home dates against Tampa Bay that could likely decide one team’s playoff fate. The best-case scenario for the Bruins obviously would be to win all four of these games. Though it is a nice thought, it isn’t realistic. That isn’t because I don’t have faith in the Bruins, but because at this point in the season, teams just on the outside tend to play a much more desperate game. I would say that the most reasonable outcome to expect from the Bruins in these four games is five points. It doesn’t matter how they come, but five points in these four games would keep the Bruins’ heads above water. The more important games to win in that set of four, are the Tampa and Toronto games, as those teams are in the Atlantic Division. New York is less important to win because of the way the NHL does playoff seeding, there is actually only one playoff spot the Islanders can realistically have, and that is the second wild card spot.

The way the playoff seeding works is still relatively new, and can still be a bit confusing. Using today’s current standings as an example, the first-round matchups would be as follows; Montreal would play the New York Rangers, Ottawa would play Boston, Washington would play Toronto, and Pittsburgh would play Columbus. Washington, as the division leader with the most points, plays the wild card team with the least points, in this case, it would be Toronto. Montreal, as the division leader with fewer points, would play the first wild card team, the New York Rangers. The other matchups are the number two and three teams in each division going head to head. The reason the NHL installed this new system a couple of seasons ago was to be able to showcase division rivalries. Say what you want, but I liked the old system better, but I digress.

Currently, there are four teams (Boston, Tampa, Toronto, New York Islanders) fighting for two playoff spots. It seems unlikely that Ottawa will cool off (though they did just lose Craig Anderson to a lower body injury), Montreal appears poised to take the division, and don’t hold your breath on any of the other four Metro teams falling out of the race. Right now, the Bruins control their own destiny. Meaning as long as they keep winning, they don’t need to worry themselves at all about the teams behind them.

The jury is still out on which teams will make it and which teams won’t, but one thing is for sure… it’s going to be a wild two and a half weeks until the end of the season. Stay tuned Bruins fans.

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