By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — We were this close on Thursday night to achieving clarity in the jumbled mess that is the Eastern Conference playoff picture. This close. But then, the Maple Leafs went ahead and Maple Leaf’d away a late lead, allowing Philadelphia to earn a point and mix up the whole situation once more.
Still, the picture is much clearer than it has been all week. And so, for the final time, here’s a complete breakdown of the playoff possibilities for the Bruins, in the simplest terms possible.
Let’s start with the Bruins not making the playoffs. That will happen if the Red Wings win their game in regulation on Saturday and the Flyers win their remaining two games. Simple enough, right? Right.
Here are the three ways which the Bruins can earn themselves a playoff berth.
Scenario 1: The Bruins will make the playoffs if …
The Bruins beat the Senators
The Rangers beat the Red Wings
In this scenario, the Bruins would steal the third and final playoff spot in the Atlantic Division from the Red Wings. The wrinkle here is that the Rangers will not be inspired to win this game. As it stands right now, the Rangers are in the first wild-card spot, and they can’t be caught by the second wild card. That means the Rangers are in line to get adopted by the Atlantic for the playoffs, and with Steven Stamkos out for Tampa Bay, that path to the Eastern Conference finals seems much more pleasant than having to go through Pittsburgh and then Washington. So, the Bruins — and Bruins fans — probably shouldn’t count on the Rangers pulling off this victory.
However, the Rangers and Islanders right now are tied in points, and the Rangers do have the first tiebreaker (regulation and overtime wins, or ROW). That means if the Islanders win neither of their final two games, then the Rangers will jump back into the Metropolitan Division anyway. So, the inspiration to lose might be overstated.
Plus, whenever guys start hopping over the boards, there’s no chance the players will ever try to lose. So, as always, anything can happen.
I’ve got one addendum to this scenario though.
Scenario 1A: The Bruins will make the playoffs if …
The Bruins beat the Senators in regulation or overtime
The Red Wings beat the Rangers in a shootout
With the first tiebreaker being ROW, this would draw the Bruins and Red Wings even in both points and ROW. That would then move the situation to the second tiebreaker, which is points earned in head-to-head matchups. The Bruins own that tiebreaker.
Scenario 2: The Bruins will make the playoffs if …
The Bruins beat the Senators
The Flyers gain no more than three points in their final two games
This remains the likeliest scenario. If their effort and execution Thursday night was any indication, then the Bruins are more than capable of winning on home ice against Ottawa.
And the Flyers, as evidenced by their flop at home against the lowly Leafs (who were motivated to lose), look like they may struggle to finish the year with wins against divisional rivals like the Penguins and Islanders. While the Penguins can’t move in the standings, they always get up for games against the Flyers. The Islanders, however, are in a similar boat as the Rangers, so if a loss would guarantee a move to the Atlantic for the playoffs, it’ll be interesting to see how the Isles come out in what will be the final game of the regular season.
Another wrinkle: the Islanders are playing Buffalo on Saturday night, a game that will take place after the Rangers game. So the Islanders will likely know more about their positioning, but also, it’s difficult to lose to Buffalo, no matter the circumstance.
Under this scenario (the Bruins winning and the Flyers going 1-0-1), the two teams would be tied with 95 points, with the Bruins owning the ROW tiebreaker.
While making the playoffs is theoretically better than not making the playoffs, the reward for this scenario would be a first-round matchup with the NHL-leading Washington Capitals.
OK, now to the funniest scenario of them all.
Scenario 3: The Bruins make the playoffs if …
The Bruins lose to the Senators
The Flyers lose to the Penguins and Islanders
The big picture shows that the Bruins, Flyers and Red Wings are not great teams. So wouldn’t it be fitting that their final fate is determined by a whole bunch of losses?
If all three teams lose their games over the weekend, it’ll be the Red Wings sealing that Atlantic spot in unimpressive fashion, and it would be the Bruins earning the second wild card after losing at home and sweating it out for about 30 hours waiting to watch the Flyers. And it would be the Flyers hitting the golf course on Monday after going 0-4-1 to end the year.
(There’s an addendum here, too, though it doesn’t need its own line: the Bruins will still earn the wild-card spot if they lose and the Flyers go 0-1-1. One point won’t be enough for Philly, even if the Bruins do lose.)
It would be a quite humorous finish, at the very least, though not for the involved parties.