When the Bruins woke up on Wednesday morning, they found themselves with a 40-26-3 record, good enough for first in their division, second in the Eastern conference and two wins better than they had at this point in time last season (38-21-9). The also awoke reeling from an overly embarrassing, 6-1 loss at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning that saw newly signed goaltender Marty Turco give up three goals on the first six shots he face and get pulled just 4:31 into his first Bruins’ start.
Things, however, did not get any better for Turco and the Bruins against Tampa as Boston’s play continued to go downhill after their starter’s exit as Turco was later put back in when Tim Thomas was pulled just 3:06 into the second period after spotting the Lightning a 5-0 lead. It was the first time the Bruins have lost three in a row since a three game slide to close out the month of October and any notion the hockey world had that the Bruins were snapping out of their funk after big, back-to-back wins last week over division rivals Toronto and Buffalo were dashed.
The Boston Bruins struggles of late are well documented and becoming painful to talk about. In case the general state of their slow, lackadaisical play was not bad enough, a team that has been remarkably healthy the last two seasons is now seeing karma come back to bite them as more key members are starting to drop with either long term or nagging, day-to-day injuries. There is no consistency throughout the line-up. A once balanced scoring attack can no longer muster more than one line that can put the puck in the net. They have given up the first two goals of the contest in four of their last six games and a goaltending battery that perennially contends for the Vezina and Jennings trophies has given up three or more goals in all but one game in the month of March. Simply put, nothing is going right for the Boston Bruins.
This is far past the point of being a good team that is just going through a mid-season slump. A season that started with such promise is headed for disaster. Whether their overall statistics or position in the standing show it, the Boston Bruins are tanking. The question is, however, regardless of how bad things currently are for the Bruins, is it possible for a team to tank without tanking too badly?
The goal is to win every game and finish as high as possible in the standings, but what is the best playoff position to be in for an Eastern Conference team? Though it was once thought to be a virtual lock, with the Ottawa Senators nipping at the Bruins heels, just one point back, Boston very well could end up second in the Northeast Division, putting them in the bottom of the playoff standings. Yet, is that necessarily a bad thing?
Currently, the Eastern Conference standings are as follows:
- New York Rangers, 44-18-7 for 95 points
- Boston Bruins, 40-36-3 for 83 points
- Florida Panthers, 33-23-13 for 79 points
- Pittsburgh Penguins, 42-21-5 for 89 points
- Philadelphia Flyers, 40-22-7 for 87 points
- New Jersey Devils, 40-25-5 for 85 points
- Ottawa Senators, 36-25-19 for 82 points
- Washington Capitals, 36-28-6 for 78 points
Suffice to say, no matter where a team ends up, the road to the Eastern Conference Championship, let alone Stanley Cup Championship is going to be brutal. Based on the above, the Bruins are going to finish in either second, sixth or seventh in the East, meaning they will be facing Ottawa, New Jersey or whoever finishes first in the Southeast Division.
Division title or not, things are shaping up for the Bruins to draw, on paper, a good first round match-up. On the season, the Bruins are 4-0 against the Devils and 4-1 against the Senators. The Southeast Division is by far the weakest division in the conference, leading one to think they would not prove to be a great threat to at team with the Bruins potential in a seven game series, even if they have given the Bruins fits this year with Boston going 6-12 versus Southeast opponents following Tuesday’s dismantling by the Lightning.
Past the first round, however, all bets are off as their second round draw would be the Rangers (baring an epic upset in the first round by whichever team finishes second in the Southeast), Penguins or Flyers, no matter where the Bruins finish the regular season. Between those three, the Bruins are a combined 3-6 this season and have a winning record against only Philadelphia (2-1). No matter how it plays out, the odds makers would not be picking the Bruins against any of those teams.
Even if they bottomed out on Tuesday night in Tampa, there is still some hope for the reigning champs as they slug towards the postseason. They will make the playoffs and will get a favorable draw, making this very likely the fourth straight season the Bruins have advanced to the conference semi-finals. From there, as the Bruins proved last year, anything can happen, so winning games and what place this team finishes in should not be Bruins’ concern right now. Their path through the playoffs will be virtually the same no matter what. Health and rest are the biggest keys for Boston over the remainder of the schedule.
Given this team’s play of late, which only seems to be getting worse, it is easy to understand the Black-and-Gold faithful being on edge over the remaining month of the season, but there is still hope for this team as bad as things may seem. Regardless of how many goals Turco gives up in the first five minutes of every game, get Thomas the rest he needs. Start holding the likes of Bergeron, Ference, Boychuk and Paille out of the line-up if need be to mend those nagging injuries. Get guys rested and healthy. One can only hope that if both of those two things break in the Bruins’ favor, their play should return to par.
Might be a fool’s hope, but there is still hope.
There’s always hope.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.