Since Bruce Cassidy took control of the Boston Bruins‘ bench, the B’s are 6-1 and have fought their way back into the thick of the playoff race. With a month and a half of regular season hockey to be played, the Bruins sit in the third spot of the Atlantic Division. The B’s are within striking range of the top of the division, but could also fall out of the playoff race if their play falls through.
As the B’s head down the stretch, there are a few things to keep an eye on that will determine whether or not they qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs once again:
1. Win Within the Division
If there’s one thing that Boston can do to secure a playoff spot, its win against the Atlantic Division. The good news is the Bruins have done just that so far. They boast a 15-6-1 record against Atlantic Division foes this season while outscoring opponents 66-50.
Even more impressive is Tuukka Rask’s stat line against division opponents. Rask is 15-2-0 against the Atlantic Division in 2016-17, with a 1.87 goals against average, a .933 save percentage, and four shutouts. Chances are, Rask will get the start in most divisional games for the rest of the season, so that’s a huge plus for the Bruins.
Winning against divisional opponents is especially important for the Bruins since they have so many divisional games remaining. Eight of Boston’s final twenty games will be played against divisional opponents, including three games against the Ottawa Senators, who currently sit one seed ahead of them in the Atlantic Division. These eight games will have the biggest impact on Boston’s standing at the end of the season.
When it comes to crunch time, nothing is more important than having a hot goaltender. Fortunately, Tuukka Rask has been very good for the Bruins this season, although his numbers have dropped off a bit in the new year.
Rask posted a 2.78 goals against average and .882 save percentage in the month of January, followed up by a 3.07 goals against average and .887 save percentage in February. Boston’s success down the stretch will largely sit on the shoulders of their netminder.
That being said, the Bruins will have to give Rask a few nights off, which means Anton Khudobin will have to step in for the Bruins. Khudobin struggled early on for the B’s and lost the backup job to Zane McIntyre for some time. But, since returning to the NHL roster, Khudobin has been better.
Khudobin won both games he played in February, allowing four goals on sixty shots, totaling a .933 save percentage. If the Bruins could get another win or two out of him, that would help.
3. Keep the Offense Rolling
Boston’s offense has been inconsistent this season. This team can come out on any given night and light up their opponent with six goals, or be shut out. However, since Cassidy took over as head coach, Boston’s offense has been strong. The aggressive, energetic, and creative offensive gameplan that Cassidy has implemented has worked so far for the Bruins, who have averaged 4.14 goals per game since the coaching change.
Boston’s offense needs to keep producing, especially if Rask is going to be playing night in and night out for the Bruins. Their trusty netminder has stolen a few games for them this season, and it’ll be their turn to bail him out if he is fatigued towards the end of the campaign.
The Bruins have been playing with life since the coaching change, and they’ve earned the 6-1 record that they’ve accumulated since. If they can accomplish the three things I’ve laid out for them, then there’s no reason they should miss the playoffs this season.
Cam is a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Maryland. He’s the Boston Bruins Beat Writer at The Hockey Writers, and is an avid college hockey fan. Find him on Twitter @CamHasbrouck!