To this point in the season, the Boston Bruins have taken their fans on a rollercoaster ride.
The peaks and valleys of an inconsistent squad has taken its toll on a fan base that demands postseason hockey. Causeway Street was void of Black and Gold buzz last year. That cannot happen again.
Through all the frustration and mild annoyance on what seems like a nightly basis, Boston still sits in third place of the Atlantic Division. They’re just four points back of the division-leading Florida Panthers and seven points clear of the Philadelphia Flyers in the race for the playoffs.
It’s a decent position to be in…
Toughest remaining strength of schedule:
1. Bruins .591
2. Penguins .585
3. Stars .579
5. Blues .573#NHLTrade
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) February 29, 2016
…until looking at the “Murderer’s Row” of opponents that await the Bruins. The next three weeks is Boston’s personal gauntlet. How they fare will leave a marked impression on the playoff race.
Leading The Way
Starting Thursday night, the Bruins’ next three games will be against division leaders.
The Western Conference leading Chicago Blackhawks came into TD Garden riding high off a 5-2 victory in Detroit on Wednesday. However, Boston scored three unanswered goals from Brad Marchand, Ryan Spooner and Loui Eriksson that propelled the B’s to a very impressive 4-2 victory. It was Boston’s best victory on home ice this season, where they have struggled to gain any momentum.
It was just the third time this season that Boston has strung together back-to-back wins at TD Garden, and the first time since December.
The League-leading Washington Capitals are in town on Saturday night. The Bruins are looking to avoid a second consecutive season sweep at the hands of the Caps after failing to score a goal in their three tilts last year.
To do that, they’ll have to stop goaltender and Bruins-killer Braden Holtby. The 26-year-old is 9-2-0 in his career against Boston with a 1.57 goals-against average and .952 save percentage – the highest against any team in the league.
Not to mention they also have Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
Boston will then travel to Florida to face the Panthers, a team they’ve owned the past few years. Dating back to February 2013, the B’s are 12-1-1 in their last 14 games against the Cats, including 2-0 this season. It’s vital to their hopes of possibly capturing the Atlantic Division title as this will be the classic “four-point swing” in the standings.
All in all, the Bruins are 3-3-0 against Division leaders this season and are due to face all four division leaders a total of five times in their final 17 games.
In nine of their next 10 games, the Bruins will face teams that are currently in the playoff structure. Six of them are from the East and the other three are from the Pacific Division in the West.
The splits between the two are striking. Against Eastern Conference playoff sides, Boston is 11-6-0 and averaging over three goals per-game while conceding 2.41 per game. For the most part, the Bruins have held their own against their seven fellow playoff-bound compatriots. It should serve as a boost of confidence they can compete with any team in the East, outside of maybe Washington.
When it comes to the West, the Black and Gold are ice cold. An ugly 4-7-0 mark is only worsened by two black eyes in a 9-2 defeat to the Kings last month and a 6-2 beating by the Ducks in late January. The offense has done their part averaging close to three goals per-game but the defense has allowed nearly four per-game to Western Conference playoff opponents. Yikes!
All of Boston’s final five cross-conference matchups are against playoff-bound teams. Their mettle will truly be tested.
The long road ahead for the Bruins, on paper, is arguably their toughest stretch of the season. They started it on Thursday night within striking distance of first in the Division and with a comfortable gap away from the playoff bubble. It’s where they end up that will decide the true status of this team.
Are they fit to contend with the best in the East? Can they find a prolonged period of consistency that has dogged them all season? We’ll know in a fortnight’s time.
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