The playoff chances for the Boston Bruins are on life support.
It will be do or die for the Bruins as they head to Tampa Bay to battle the Lightning on Saturday night. A 4-2 loss against the Florida Panthers coupled with Ottawa’s 3-0 victory against the New York Rangers have put Boston on the outside looking in entering the final night of the regular season.
What many projected to be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender have been nothing more than a middle-of-the-road hockey club. The injuries to Zdeno Chara and David Krejci may be a convenient excuse for the Bruins apologist, but the problems with this season’s bunch go beyond that.
Nevertheless, they still have a chance to reach the playoffs for the eighth consecutive season.
What’s At Stake
The Bruins could make the playoffs if: the Bruins beat the Bolts and the Sens lose to Philly on Sat. The Penguins lose both remaining games.
— Hockey Haunt (@HockeyHaunt) April 10, 2015
There is a very distinct possibility that Boston’s final game of the season may not mean a thing on Saturday. Ottawa needs a single point from their game against the Philadelphia Flyers to clinch a playoff spot, completing their meteoric rise to the top-eight. If the Sens lose in regulation, it opens the door for the Bruins to get into the postseason with a victory. Ottawa and Boston would be tied with 97 points, but the Bruins own the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker over the Sens (38-36).
The Pittsburgh Penguins could also help Boston back their way into the postseason. A loss by the Pens in Buffalo against the Sabres coupled with a Bruins victory would see the Black and Gold in at Pittsburgh’s expense.
Tampa Bay is assured of postseason hockey, but are chasing the Montreal Canadiens for the Atlantic Division title. Tampa would need a victory in any fashion over Boston AND a Montreal loss in regulation against the Toronto Maple Leafs to be crowned division champions.
The teams would be tied with 108 points, but Tampa Bay owns the ROW tiebreaker over the Habs (47-43).
Home Ice Advantage
The home team has taken care of business in the previous three matchups between the two teams this season. Back on January 14, two goals from rookie David Pastrnak guided the Bruins to a 4-3 victory at TD Garden. The 18-year-old was a career-high plus-four on the night while his third-period tally stood up as the game-winner. Steven Stamkos scored twice in a losing effort for the Bolts.
Boston got the better of Tampa Bay once again on March 12, but it took a shootout to secure the two points. The Bruins got goals from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand beyond the 65 minutes to take a 3-2 decision at TD Garden. Goaltender Tuukka Rask, as he has all season, stood strong between the pipes with 35 saves, 16 of which came in the second period. Pastrnak and Stamkos traded goals for the second straight game between the two clubs as Boston extended their win streak at the time to four games.
In their last meeting, Tampa Bay shook off an early deficit en route to a convincing 5-3 victory. Bergeron’s goal 33 seconds into the game was answered with three goals in 5:13 to effective flip the game on its head. Rask was pulled in the second period after allowing four goals on just 12 shots. Ondrej Palat, J.T. Brown, and Vladislav Namestnikov each recorded a goal and an assist in the victory for the Bolts. The loss sent the Bruins to their fifth straight defeat.
Battle Between The Pipes
Tuukka Rask and Ben Bishop are expected to get the call for their respective clubs on Saturday night. The six-foot-two-inch Rask has had success against the Lightning in his career going 9-3-0 with a goals-against of 2.33 and three shutouts. The six-foot-seven-inch Bishop has struggled against the Bruins in his career going 1-3-2 with a goals-against of 3.33 and a putrid .887 save percentage.
Both goaltenders could make a case they deserve to be finalists for the Vezina Trophy this season alongside Carey Price. Rask has been outstanding for the Bruins, carrying the team on his back for the better part of the season. Bishop has been Tampa Bay’s rock this season and will enter the playoffs with a clean bill of health after an upper-body injury cost him the opportunity to help his club in the playoffs last year. He will look to make amends this time around.
It will take a minor miracle as the Bruins are facing a prototypical”do or die” game on Saturday in Tampa Bay. Boston has sixty minutes to show their fans that they will not go down without a fight, even if the postseason is no longer possible come 7:30pm.
Joe is a writer covering the Boston Bruins. He is a lifelong native of Massachusetts and is currently a content writer/manager for a newsletter at a Human Services Agency. Joe can be found on Twitter: @JoeCherryTHW