Bruins Wild Card Push
With the Eastern Conference wild card standings being as congested as they are, the Boston Bruins are neck and neck with the surging Ottawa Senators for the eighth and final spot in the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins (87 points) have had a series of hot and cold streaks throughout the season that have put them in the unexpected situation that they are in.
Meanwhile, the Senators have had a late season surge off of rookie goaltender Andrew Hammond, who’s posted a 14-1-1 start to his pro career, a career that has only seen him fail to pick up at least a point once, in a blowout loss to the NY Rangers (every goalie is due for one bad game, especially when they start their career with a 1.92 GAA). Hammond’s play is a huge factor as to why Ottawa has emerged as a playoff contender, and climbed to ninth in the standings (86 points, and a game in hand on the Bruins).
Going down the stretch, the race to be “in” as a member of the great eight will be interesting. The Bruins have played well as of late, collecting three of a possible four points against the best teams in their respective conferences, the Anaheim Ducks and New York Rangers. After losing to the Ducks in overtime during a tough game in which Anaheim tied it
in the closing seconds off of a controversial no goalie interference call, the Bruins bounced back and dominated the Rangers in the return of star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The Bruins Milan Lucic scored two of Boston’s four goals, his 17th career multi-goal game, which ironically gave number seventeen his 16th and 17th goals of the year. The Bruins also saw Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith net goals, which is a good sign for Boston considering they are both in an offense “funk” as of late. On a sour note, Boston lost star goaltender Tuukka Rask at the beginning of the second period, but only due to dehydration. The Bruins hope the Rask will be okay, and if anything only miss Sunday’s matchup with Carolina, because if they have any hope of making the playoffs, they will need him.
The Bruins only have two home games remaining, which they must take advantage of. With five of their seven games remaining being away from the TD Garden, the Bruins must remain disciplined and focused. Key players like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron must carry the team on their backs and hope they have a strong supporting cast behind them. The emergence of rookie Zach Trotman’s physical play in the absence of Dougie Hamilton has brought out the beast within the team, something that they have missed deeply all season. Defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Adam Mcquaid showed signs of what Bruins fans recognize as Bruins hockey in Saturday’s game: tough, gritty, physically dominant hockey. The Bruins also saw a familiar face return to the lineup. David Krejci returned after almost two months, and is already playing a key role into the lineup, as he’s collected a handful of assists in his return. However, with the Spooner line being as dominant as it is as of late, it’s forced Krejci to play as a wing on the Bergeron line, which is something the natural center must get adjusted to quickly.
The Bruins must also learn to close games out. A handful of the Bruins one point games have come from defeat in the always controversial shootout. With Tuukka Rask ranking in the bottom ten among goaltenders in the shootout, and the Bruins having one of the worst conversion percentages among NHL teams in the shootout, it is no surprise that they are struggling. It’s key that the Bruins deal with this issue, or else, they could lose out on key points down the stretch.
Key veterans like Dennis Seidenberg also need to step up and anchor the depleted and struggling defensive unit down this rough stretch. As of late, Seids has been paired with Matt Bartkowski. Despite Bartkowski’s on paper struggles (has yet to score a regular season goal in over 100 career games), it is Matt who has emerged as the likely candidate to get bumped up in the defensive rotation. After getting benched for a good chunk of the season, Bartkowski has re-emerged with a physical presence and a highly improved hockey IQ. Seidenberg on the other hand has been at arguably his lowest point as a Bruin. Coming off ACL surgery, Seidenberg has been nothing more than a shadow of his old self. However, against the Rangers Saturday, we saw Seidenberg become more aggressive with and without the puck, which contributed to the Bruins success against a perennial powerhouse in the East. The Bruins need that Seidenberg if they are to make another run for a cup.
In October, if someone came up to a Bruins fan and told them that the Celtics would be the only team to host a playoff game in the TD Garden, they would have seemed crazy. But the sad part is, that could be a reality. If the Bruins don’t smarten up and show up, they could be in for a very dark period. If the Bruins fail to make the playoffs, we could see major changes, both in the front offices, and on the ice. However, if they do make the playoffs, those changes could be minimal, as the Bruins need to work around a cap disaster. Regardless, the Bruins need to be playing their best hockey of the year for the next seven games, or else they could be one of the last teams in on the Connor McDavid hunt.
– Anthony (AMB__12)