If the playoffs were to start today, Boston's hopes of making out of the first round seem absolutely slim to none at all. The Montreal Canadiens sit atop the Eastern Conference and are tied for the league lead in points with two other teams, bringing a hostile first round opponent that the Bruins seem to struggle against in recent meetings. Just sixteen games remain in the regular season and the Bruins are still holding on strong to the #8 seed and last wild card spot but threaten to leap forward. Stellar play from Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner have propelled the Bruins to five wins in their last six games and have a chance to hit the playoffs in a perfect position. Last year, we saw what the team can do when it hits a hot streak and with the current situation, now would be the perfect time for a repeat in history.
The remainder of the NHL schedule benefits Montreal with more than half of their games being played against non-playoff teams, which leads me to believe they will remain atop the Eastern Conference as the #1 seed. If this happens, the Bruins will need to leap-frog the Capitals for the #7 spot to avoid Montreal in the first round. The Bruins only have to face eight playoff teams for the last month of their season and can propel themselves into a more manageable position with two of those eight games coming against the Capitals. Washington plays a fortified Rangers squad tonight and only have fifteen games remaining. Ten of those fifteen come against playoff teams, including the games versus Boston. Both matches will have severe importance and playoff implications so the Bruins will need to be ready as both of those meetings are scheduled in Washington. With new playoff seeding, the division leader with the second highest amount of points plays the wild card team with the most points, the seventh seed. Assuming the Bruins are able to power past the Capitals, that would leave them to play either the Islanders, Rangers, or Penguins. This year features a thrilling and tight race that could see us playing any team, but it is crucial to avoid Montreal for as long as you can. Below, you can see a chart showing the remainder of games for each team in the east. Courtesy of Damian Echevarrieta, Vice President of Player Safety & Hockey Operations.
As you can see, the Penguins have the easiest schedule as the season plays out, making them a potential playoff opponent as well. However, the key to success and a longer playoff run will be the dominant play we have seen from the Bruins over the past six games. They are finding different ways to win games now and have finally started achieving results that they couldn't seem to find in the earlier in the season.
After the Bruins win in Ottawa, Milan Lucic mentioned "We found a way to win a hockey game that earlier in the year, even if we were the better team, we didn't get the result we wanted."
Finding key ways to win hockey games and finding that consistent scoring will only benefit Boston in the long term. Not that facing Montreal in the first round would be a complete disaster, it's just that the Bruins have lost all four regular season games to Montreal this year. In the last fifteen years, Boston has met Montreal in the playoffs six times. The Bruins only won two of those series, once in 2009 and again in 2011 during our Stanley Cup championship run. A combined record of 19-19 against Montreal shows that we constantly play them close, but a 2-4 overall series record is deflating to look at as a Bruins fan and only further proves that we need to avoid them in the first round. The Bruins have found success against other teams in the Eastern Conference and can skate with the remaining playoff teams, giving them an opportunity to swim a little deeper in the race for Lord Stanley's Cup!