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With 51 games in the 2009-10 season already in the books, you have to imagine coach Claude Julien envisioned a playoff picture that was a bit brighter than the one his team is faced with at this point. Just one year ago at this time, Julien’s Bruins were sitting pretty atop the Eastern Conference standings, shifting it into cruise control to finish as the top dawgs. We all remember how their season ended, but all in all, the B’s treated their fans to a very entertaining ’08-’09 season, one that had visions of Stanley Cups dancing in our heads.
But this season, the team has faced incredible challenges. Challenges, unfortunately, they have not always overcome. With injuries to key players basically from opening night on, this year’s edition of the Boston Bruins have left a lot to be desired.
The question left on every fan’s mind is… “Can they turn this thing around?”
The optimistic fan quickly points to last year’s Pittsburgh Penguins. At this time last season, the Pens were on the outside of the playoff picture, struggling to find a rhythm. With a few roster moves leading up the trade deadline, the team rallied and made an impressive climb up the standings, finishing fourth in the conference. From there, they romped through the Eastern Conference playoffs, took the reigning Cup champion Detroit Red Wings to a seventh game, and ultimately won the whole darned thing. All this, after floundering around .500 for much of the year. “Johnny Optimist” sees the Black and Gold making a similar run this season.
On the flip side, the pessimistic fan just doesn’t see that same potential in this year’s Bruins team. “Joe Pessimist” says last year’s Bruins team completely overachieved, that every player had a career year last year, and that this year’s team just isn’t as talented. They can’t score goals, they can’t hold leads. They’re frauds!
So will the real Bruins please stand up? What can be made of this year’s team? Are they a playoff team? Are they a Cup contender? If they can get healthy, do they have a Penguins-like run in them?
When I catch a glimpse of the team’s remaining schedule, “Joe Pessimist” unfortunately reigns supreme over “Johnny Optimist.” On paper, the remaining 31 games look like a major uphill battle. The B’s have very little room for error anymore, as they have dug a hole that will take a significant effort to dig back out of.
Let’s take a closer look at the road ahead for the Black and Gold, by the numbers…31 games that will make or break the playoff hopes of B’s fans everywhere:
As of Tuesday afternoon, just three points separate the sixth seed (Philadelphia – 55 points) from the thirteenth seed (Tampa Bay – 52 points). Boston, with 54 points, sits snugly in between. With the conference’s top four seeds likely to stay atop the standings (Washington, New Jersey, Buffalo, and Pittsburgh), that leaves nine teams vying for the last four playoff spots. With how tough the schedule is for Boston, getting squeezed out of the East’s top eight is a very real possibility.
After the Olympic break, the B’s will spend a good portion of March on a season-long seven-game road trip. Though, that’s not to say that the team has played any better at home…I’m just sayin’.
Of the 31 games left, nine of them will be against current division leaders: two against New Jersey, three against Washington, and four games with Northeast Division-leading Buffalo. The B’s have beaten the Sabres in their two previous meetings this season, so the potential is there to gain some much needed ground in the division, but having nearly a third of your remaining games up against the East’s best, I can’t like that.
The B’s have nine games left before the Olympic break, but 10 games before the all-important NHL trade deadline on March 3rd. How the Bruins fare in those ten games will tell the tale of whether or not GM Peter Chiarelli turns Boston into buyers or sellers in the trade market. The bad news: all 10 of those games will be against teams currently in the playoff picture, or at worst, just three points out of the playoff picture.
The number of home games left for Boston out of the remaining 31 games, leaving them road-bound for 17. Again, not that the team has played any better at home…really, I’m just sayin’.
The B’s will face Eastern Conference opponents in all but three of their remaining games, which means that quite often, they’ll be squaring off against the teams that will be fighting for the very same playoff spots that Boston will be. I believe they call that “controlling your own destiny,” as if one’s destiny can even be controlled.
In the four seasons since the lockout, the eighth seed in the East has notched a minimum of 92 points in the standings. Sitting now with 54 points, that leaves 38 points left to really have a good shot at making the East’s top eight. 31 games remain… can the B’s go 18-11-2 up against their difficult remaining schedule?
The chances I give the Boston Bruins for making the playoffs this season… how’s that for sitting on the fence?