You have to give credit when it is due, and with this Florida Panthers team you just have to appreciate what they have done. The Cats went from being at the bottom of the Eastern Conference a year ago to being a legitimate playoff contender this season. The fact of the matter is the Bruins are just a hair ahead of the Panthers in the standings with 19 games remaining on their schedule, with 71 points compared to Florida's 69. Thankfully for Bruins fans, Florida has failed to surpass the B's in the standings even with the handful of opportunities they have had by losing games such as the one against Toronto on Tuesday, 3-2.
If you told most Bruins fans back in early October that their team would be in a battle for the eighth seed in the East with the Florida Panthers, they probably would have just laughed at you. But a fantasy joke to a lot of people has now become a reality. The Panthers are knocking on the door of the eight seed in the East and have made a ton of moves both in free agency over the summer and at the trade deadline on Monday to prove that they going for it.
The Bruins possess a couple of key strengths compared to the Panthers. Their experience in big games gives them that advantage over the Cats. The Panthers haven't been in the postseason since 2012, where they lost to New Jersey in the opening round. The Bruins have made the playoffs every year since 2008, with two finals appearances and one cup, and they have done that with the same core group of players (Chara, Bergeron, Krejci, Lucic, etc) as they have this year.
The Panthers meanwhile have developed into a farm-system type of team, always having both ample young guys making their way into the league (Hayes, Bjugstad, Huberdeau, Ekblad), as well as aged veterans with maybe a year or two of legs left going there to finish their careers (Boyes, Heatley, Jagr).
Even with the Panthers having added a ton of veteran players with playoff experience this season (Jokinen, Jagr, Campbell, Bolland, etc), they still have yet to all compete in the postseason together. Team chemistry in the postseason is far different then the chemistry teams build in the regular season. In the playoffs you have to be tough, resilient, and have the capability to play every other night and some times back to back nights. You have to know the capabilities of your own body and of the guys on your line, and you have to be able to endure the possibility of playing in four-7 game series over the course of two months if you want to win a Cup. Just ask Patrice Bergeron, the guy played in the Cup Final against Chicago with a separated shoulder, a punctured lung, and multiple broken ribs. The injuries were so severe that Bergeron had to be admitted to the hospital following the Bruins' game six loss to Chicago. Via ESPN-Boston
The Bruins clearly have the upper-hand when it comes to experience having been in the postseason with the same core group of players for the last seven seasons, and making deep playoff runs even with players battling injury.
Another strength for the Bruins is their goaltending situation. I know what you are saying: how is that even possible? They barely even have a backup that can save a puck in either Svedberg or Subban. Despite the fact that Rask has taken up a ridiculous work load of late, he still remains healthy. While Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya were both injured in the Panthers' Tuesday night loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. If the Bruins have a healthy Tuukka compared to an injury riddled-Luongo and Montoya, then they clearly have an upper hand at beating out the Panthers for the eight-seed.
Even with a -25 goal ratio, the Panthers are still right on the Bruins' tail for the final playoff spot. Normally that would be a weakness for them. But in reality that means absolutely nothing right now. The only thing that matters for these two teams is points, and the Bruins are just two points ahead at the moment. Clearly it helps that the Bruins have scored more goals then the Panthers this season, as well as having let up less of them, that is what has inevitably allowed the Bruins to remain ahead of Florida. But the potential in the future is the only stat that matters when it comes to goals scored or goals scored against, especially in a playoff race during the final weeks of the season. It definitely doesn't help Florida that they are a -25, but even with that stat they still remain in the chase. And, the Panthers just added Jaromir Jagr at the trade deadline, who even with ancient hands still has the ability to put the puck in the net no matter who he is playing with. Don't expect Florida to be a -25 at the season's end.
Another slight advantage for the Bruins is their two games in hand. The Bruins currently have played 62 games, compared to Florida's 64. That stat will even out this weekend though as the Bruins are set to play three games in four nights against Calgary, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Having the games in hand right now is helpful, but that is not going to be the case on Sunday when both teams have equal games played.
A massive weakness for the Bruins right now is health. The Bruins currently have David Krejci out long term with a sprained MCL, Kevan Miller out for the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, Chara and Seidenberg's legs aging, and the work load that Tuukka Rask faces. Losing Krejci is a killer but he should be back for round one. Miller being out is tough as well with the physical style of play he brings to the defensive core. Chara and Seidenberg clearly are not the same as they used to be, as both have suffered knee injuries in the past year and seem to be getting slower. While Florida is also facing a goaltending problem because of injury, they still at least have two goal tenders who can get the job done when healthy with Luongo and Montoya. The Panthers also have a young and healthy defensive core led by Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad. So if you had to give one advantage to Florida, its their team's health and ability to give players rest. Rask may be a better overall goaltending situation, but two healthy and able goalies compared to one is definitely advantage-Florida.
The Bruins and Panthers are set to meet two more times in Sunrise during the month of March. These two games will have a playoff atmosphere and will be must-win for both squads. The battle for eighth should come right down to the end.