BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins committed larceny in Detroit on Thursday night, as Tuukka Rask’s acrobatics early on allowed them to stay in the game and later steal a win. It was a wild night, one where Bruins fans’ optimism likely fluctuated between 1 and 10 throughout.
But they got the two points, and as a result, they’re now sitting in a virtual tie with the Red Wings for the third and final spot in the Atlantic Division. However, the Red Wings have five games remaining on the schedule, compared to the Bruins’ four, so Boston is currently still holding tight to that second and final wild-card spot.READ MORE: Massachusetts Reports 1,734 New COVID Cases, 46 Additional Deaths
Entering the weekend, they’re three points up on the Ottawa Senators, who will play their “game in hand” this weekend. By Sunday night, the race for that final wild-card spot will really come into focus.
In the meantime, the Bruins can do their part to separate themselves from that wild-card race.
Boston has won four straight games, while Detroit is currently stuck in a 2-5-2 stretch. They are two teams seemingly heading in different directions, and with the Bruins’ next contest being at home against the lowly Maple Leafs, they could apply the pressure even further on Saturday night.
Like the Senators, the Red Wings will be playing their “extra” game this weekend, going to Minnesota on Saturday and hosting Washington on Sunday. If Detroit only gains two points in those two games while the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs, the Bruins will move into third place in the division.
Of course, that assumes a Boston win — a proposition that hasn’t always been reliable this season. If the Bruins lose to Toronto in regulation while the Senators pick up three points, the Bruins will still hold the tiebreaker (regulation/overtime wins) over Ottawa, though they’ll be tied in points.
If that’s the case, and if the Red Wings continue their skid, the trio of teams will have three games apiece next week to determine which two will continue their seasons and which one will be sent home for the summer.
There’s also this: The Bruins’ highest possible point total is 101. The Senators’ highest possible point total is 100. So technically, the Bruins are in control of their postseason plans, but it might be a stretch to expect them to run the table over the next week and finish the season on an eight-game winning streak. Their longest winning streak all year lasted five games.
So that’s the qualification part. Now, onto the seeding.
At the top of the conference, three teams continue to jockey for the top seed in the East — the Rangers, Canadiens and Lightning. The Rangers enter the weekend in the top spot, with 105 points.The Canadiens are a win away with 103 points, while the Lightning are just behind with 102.READ MORE: Police Investigating After Woman Says Baby Was Found In Trash Can On Dorchester Avenue
The Rangers are sitting in the driver’s seat, having played just 77 games, compared to Montreal’s 78 and Tampa Bay’s 79.
Assuming the Rangers finish the season strong enough to maintain that top seed, they’ll face the second wild-card team, aka the eight seed. That would move the other wild-card (the de facto No. 7 seed) into the Atlantic Division to face either Montreal or Tampa Bay — whichever wins the division.
On the flip side, if Montreal or Tampa passes the Rangers, then the eight seed will take on the Atlantic winner, while the seven seed will play in the Metropolitan Division, facing the Rangers in the first round.
Easy enough, right?
The Bruins can very realistically end up anywhere: in the third spot in the Atlantic, in either of the wild-card spots, or out of the playoffs entirely. With so many variables — like uneven number of games played, three-point games — it’s not worth wasting time by simulating out the “if” scenarios. But the most common feeling in Boston is that the Bruins would be best-served getting scooped into the Metro Division, where they can take on the Rangers and then either the Capitals, Islanders or Penguins. The B’s are 2-1 vs. the Rangers, 2-1 vs. the Islanders, 2-0-1 vs. the Penguins and 0-2 vs. the Capitals, with one more meeting scheduled in Washington next Wednesday.
If the Bruins do play in the Metro division and win both of their series, they could hope that either Tampa Bay, Detroit, Ottawa or possibly Pittsburgh (the Penguins are currently the seventh-seed/second wild card, one point back of the Islanders for third place in the Metro) can do their dirty work and eliminate the Canadiens. The Bruins are, of course, 0-4 vs. Montreal this year and 1-6-1 against the Habs over the past two regular seasons. The Canadiens also eliminated the Bruins last spring in seven games. A first- or second-round meeting with Montreal would simply not bode well for Boston.
It’s a bit of a messy picture, but the simplified version is that entering the penultimate weekend of the season, everything remains on the table for the Bruins. They can win their way in, they can lose their way out, and they have three potential first-round opponents in the Canadiens, Lightning and Rangers.
What will it take to get there? Well, for the Senators, you have to figure that after winning 19 of their last 24 games, they have to run into some bad luck at some point. Will it come before the regular season concludes? Just one loss could be the one that buries their season.
Realistically for the Bruins, picking up wins over Toronto and Florida and, ideally, earning at least one point from the two games against Washington and Tampa should be enough to secure a postseason berth.
But this is hockey, and truly anything can happen. For now, it should seem pretty clear that at least in terms of the pressure to win every single night, the playoffs have already begun.MORE NEWS: Owners Of Truck Company Charged In Connection To Crash That Killed 7 Motorcyclists