BOSTON (CBS) — As it stands right now, the Bruins have the eighth-most points in the Eastern Conference. But because they are benefitting from a (so far) weak Atlantic Division, they would hold the sixth seed in the conference if the Stanley Cup Playoffs started on Tuesday.
There are other teams, however, that are dangerously close to the Bruins in the standings with games at hand, like Toronto, Florida, and Tampa Bay. A quick hot streak in the coming days by any of these teams would drop the Bruins out of the playoff picture entirely. Unfortunately, the Bruins have put themselves in that position by playing down to the level of their competition.
If the Bruins end up missing the playoffs for a third straight season, and any number of coaches or front-office execs lose their jobs as a result, games like Monday night’s bizarre no-show in New Jersey would be the reason why.
The Bruins aren’t always bad against bad teams – they are 16-7-1 on the season against teams that are tied or behind them in points as of Tuesday. But they are a combined 2-4 against the New Jersey Devils, Colorado Avalanche, Calgary Flames, and New York Islanders. Those teams are a combined 62-68-16 on the season. Ugly, frustrating home losses to the otherwise-putrid Islanders and Avs stand out among the worst of the worst.
For a middling squad like the Bruins, this handful of ill-timed letdowns is the kind of underachievement that could kill their chances of returning to playoff hockey.
98.5 The Sports Hub color commentator Bob Beers struggled to explain the failures of the Bruins, which he described as a “middle-of-the-road” team, against inferior opponents when he spoke to Toucher & Rich on Tuesday.
“When [the Bruins] don’t play up to their potential and they don’t do some of the things they need in order to win games, you can lose to any team in this league,” said Beers. “They kind of proved that [on Monday].”
The Bruins missed the Wild Card spots in the Eastern Conference by slim margins for the past two seasons, so they have to realize how important it is for them to earn every last point they can. Because of how poorly they have played in several games this season against decidedly inferior opponents, they simply haven’t won enough games that they are supposed to win at this point in the season.
These head-scratching performances against weaker teams, which Julien would describe as “flat,” could ultimately doom the Bruins in the standings if they don’t turn things around in those situations.
Julien told it like it is on NESN after Monday night’s loss, having no doubt that the Bruins should beat teams like the Devils if they play to their capabilities. Clearly, on Monday, they did not.
“We didn’t bring our A-game at all [on Monday],” said Julien. “[The Devils] came and they played hard and they did what they had to do, but there’s no reason in the world that if we played our A-game that we would have lost this game. So it’s on us, no doubt. … This was an opportunity to move up in the standings.
“We have a lot of things to learn with this hockey club. We’re trying to push it as the season goes along, and we’re going to continue to do that.”
The Bruins will hit the exact midway point of the season on Thursday when they take on the Edmonton Oilers at TD Garden in Game No. 41 of the season. If they’re still learning about the team halfway through the season, they could be in trouble. And if they continue to lose games that they’re supposed to win, they could be doomed to repeat the disappointment of the past two seasons.