Eight games separate the Boston Bruins from a possible return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, Thursday night could be their last stand at obtaining a moniker that few thought would be possible before the season started.
Thursday night will mark their final head-to-head matchup with the Atlantic Division co-leading Florida Panthers. Boston’s 5-2 loss in New York Wednesday night keeps them three points back of the Cats having played a game more. A four-game losing streak has come at the worst possible time, throwing the Bruins’ playoff status back in doubt and bringing back fears of a repeat of last season.
However, a regulation victory on Thursday will cut the first-place deficit to just one point but having played more games than both the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. I sense a hint of desperation may be in the air at TD Garden.
If Boston wants to stand their ground in the Division and take this race all the way to the final week (or perhaps game) of the season, Thursday night may be their last chance to stay alive while creeping ever closer to the postseason.
Recent History Says…
This is a matchup that has been especially kind to the Bruins for over three years.
Dating back to February 2013, the Bruins are 13-1-1 against the Panthers and haven’t lost to them at home since December of 2011. In their last meeting, the Black and Gold let a three-goal first period lead slip away from them only for then-newcomer Lee Stempniak to win it with his first goal as a Bruin in overtime.
Boston will have the chance to finish off a season-sweep of their Atlantic Division rivals in a potential playoff preview between the two. It’s a matchup the Bruins would certainly welcome given their prolonged dominance against Gerard Gallant’s Cats.
Another subplot to watch for? It could be the last game for former Bruin Shawn Thornton in the barn where he was a cult hero for eight seasons. It will be interesting to see how the Garden faithful will salute their former number-22.
The Schedules and Stats
At the conclusion of Thursday night’s game, the Bruins will have seven games remaining against a myriad of opponents. A four-game road trip will close their slate away from TD Garden with trips to Toronto, New Jersey, St. Louis and Chicago. Boston will end the season with three crucial home games against Carolina, Detroit and Ottawa.
Claude Julien’s side have gone a combined 10-3-3 against their seven remaining opponents. However, away trips against the Blues and Blackhawks are bound to be difficult as both clubs are right in the thick of the Central Division title picture.
Florida will have eight games left against fairly easy opponents, on paper. A weekend matchup against the Lightning will be their last game against current playoff opposition this season as games against the likes of Toronto and Montreal await the Panthers. They have gone a combined 13-3-0 against their remaining slate of opponents.
Tampa Bay will have the most games remaining with nine but will play teams currently in the Eastern Conference top-eight four times. Against their six remaining opponents, the Bolts are just 6-6-2 and finish with a four-game road trip. They may be the proverbial favorites to hoist the crown due to their 39 regulation/overtime wins this season.
In comparison, Florida has just 33 and Boston has 35. Since the first tiebreaker is the ROW stat, the Bruins own the potential trump card to garner home-ice in the first round.
.757 – The Panthers have the fifth-worst win percentage in the League when leading after two periods.
15-2-1 – Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has owned Florida. His 1.42 goals-against and .952 save percentage against the Cats are the lowest against any opponent in the League.
3 – Jaromir Jagr is three points away from tying Gordie Howe for third all-time on the NHL’s scoring list.
Thursday night may be Boston’s last stand to have their say in the Atlantic Division race against a team they have dominated in the past few seasons. However, in what has been a crazy season on Causeway Street, nothing is certain.
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