After clinching first place in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Bruins go into the final week of the 2013-14 regular season knowing that they’ll face the second wild card team in the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Those wild card spots are still up for grabs and the B’s will know their matchup after the conclusion of Sunday’s matchups.
One person who is keeping an eye on the rest of the season is Milan Lucic.
“You look at the standings and look at how tight of a race that second wild card spot is,” said Lucic, the unofficial numbers guy of the Bruins locker room. “We’re worried about our game and playing at the level that we want to play at, but like I said we’re not taking any situation or any team for granted. No matter who we face its going to be a tough test.”
With a two-point lead on the St. Louis Blues for the best record in the National Hockey League, the Bruins also have a good chance of capturing the Presidents’ Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the postseason. Come playoff time, those regular season numbers go out the window and teams will start at a clean slate.
So how do the Bruins shape up against some potential first round opponents? Let’s take a look.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The team who currently holds the second wild card spot is a team who fell to the Bruins in each of their three meetings. But the upstart Blue Jackets hung in their with the veteran laden B’s thanks to some solid goaltending from last year’s Vezina Winner, Sergei Bobrovsky.
Last year Bobrovsky and company made some headlines by narrowly missing the playoffs. This year, they are benefitting from a move to the Eastern Conference and are playing some good hockey in the second half.
With their next two games against teams who are fighting for a wild card spot out West – against the Coyotes and Stars – and another against a team looking for home ice for the first round, will Bobrovsky, Ryan Johansen and company be able to hold on? It will be one big test for sure, but a test that could give the Blue Jackets some momentum heading into the playoffs.
Detroit Red Wings
Having dealt with injuries to Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg for most of the season, head coach Mike Babcock has done a stellar job behind the bench. Some pundits wrote this team off a few weeks ago, but with a 6-3-1 mark in their last 10, the Red Wings are poised to clinch a playoff berth for the 23rd consecutive season.
The Bruins have not had much success against the team from “Hockeytown,” winning only one of four meetings this season, including last Wednesday’s 3-2 loss. Sure, some of the players, like Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Daniel Alfredsson and Tood Bertuzzi, are aging. But with some young blood injected into the lineup, including Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Smith, this is not a team the Bruins want to be facing in round one.
With a four-point lead on the Devils and Maple Leags (tied for ninth in the East) and a five point lead on the Capitals (11th), its safe to say that things are looking pretty good for the Wings in terms of clinching another playoff berth. They also have a pretty favorable schedule that includes the lowly Sabres (tonight) and Hurricanes (Friday), and a matchup against the Metro Division leading Penguins Wednesday night before their season finale against the Blues on Sunday. If Bruins fans have their way, the Wings-Pens matchup could be a first round preview.
Like they did against Columbus, the Bruins swept the Flyers in three games during the regular season. And if Saturday’s matchup was any indication, the B’s could very well have their way with the Broad Street Bullies if they meet in the first round.
On the other hand, head coach Craig Berube has done a good job behind the bench since taking over for Peter Laviolette, who was fired three games into the 2013-14 season. And after an early season slump, Claude Giroux is one of the better players in the second half and could land himself as a finalist for the Hart Trophy.
The Flyers currently hold a two point lead over the Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Their remaining schedule includes matchups against the Panthers, Hurricanes, Penguins and Lightning. While there’s still a chance they drop in the standings, it looks like the Flyers are on path to face the Rangers in the first round.
New Jersey Devils and Toronto Maple Leafs
The collapse of the Maple Leafs continues to be the biggest soap opera in Toronto, but mathematically they are still alive. Can James Reimer somehow string some good games together in the final week and pull out a miracle? Or will the Leafs face another off-season full of scrutiny and rumors?
The Devils, meanwhile, are 5-2-3 in their last 10, but Columbus has a three point lead and has an extra game in hand on both them and the Leafs. Wouldn’t it be ironic if it came down to the Devils clinching the last playoff spot against the Bruins in Sunday’s season finale?
The Caps find themselves four points behind the Blue Jackets with four games left, but they’ll need to find some secondary scoring or rely heavily on Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Otherwise, their streak of six straight playoff appearances will come to an end.
New York Rangers
This matchup might have been possible a few weeks ago, but after going 7-2-1 in their last 10, the Rangers are focused on second place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice for the first round. Barring any collapse, the Bruins, who swept the Blueshirts in the regular season, will have to wait for any potential matchup against Henrik Lundqvist and company until the Eastern Conference Finals.