On the one week anniversary of the firing of Claude Julien and subsequent promotion of Bruce Cassidy as interim coach, the Bruins find themselves in third place in the Atlantic Division entering Day 2 of their bye week.
At this time last week, it was hard to imagine the Black and Gold being in that third spot. But here we are after the Cassidy era began with three straight wins – two coming in impressive fashion against the Sharks and Canadiens. Entering tonight, the Bruins have a 54.6 percent chance of making the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats.
Before the Bruins begin their west coast trip on Sunday in San Jose, they will have to settle for scoreboard watching as teams beneath them in the standings look to gain ground with their games in hand starting tonight with a pivotal Maple Leafs-Islanders contest.
The Leafs and Islanders aren’t the only two teams who will be looking to gain ground on the Black and Gold as the NHL playoff race heats up. Here’s a look at the notable squads who have a shot to surpass the B’s during their week off.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Current standing: 8th in East, 4th in Atlantic
Games this week: 2/14 vs. New York Islanders, 2/15 at Columbus, 2/18 vs. Ottawa, 2/19 vs. Carolina
By the time Sunday is all said and done, the Leafs will only have one game in hand on the Bruins. The team who handed Claude Julien his last loss only took four of a possible eight points since their 6-5 win in Boston last Saturday and find themselves three points in back of the Bruins – despite winning all three regular season meetings.
A pair of back to backs this week for the Leafs present a few opportunities to surpass the Black and Gold, but the slate isn’t all that inviting for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and company. Two of the four teams find themselves in the top three of their respective divisions, while the red-hot Islanders can overtake the Leafs for the final wild card spot tonight. With a 4-4-2 mark in their last 10, Mike Babcock hopes to right the ship for his young but talented Toronto squad.
Current standing: 9th in East, 5th in Metropolitan
Games this week: at Calgary 2/15, at Edmonton 2/16, at Vancouver 2/19
Like the Leafs, the Flyers sit three points in back of the Bruins, but with two games in hand. Those will both be made up at the conclusion of Thursday’s game with the Oilers in the second game of their trip to Western Canada.
Of all the teams in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Flyers have the worst goal differential at minus-21. Offense has been hard to come by on a consistent basis outside of first-time all-star Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn, while Steve Mason is arguably having his worst statistical season in a Flyers uniform. Though Ivan Porvorov is having a solid rookie season, the Flyers blue-line remains in flux with the sophomore slump of Shayne Gostisbehere, an aging Mark Streit and a rotating door around the blue-line with Radko Gudas, Brandon Manning and Nick Cousins for top-four minutes.
Despite all the struggles, the Flyers are still within striking distance. Though they may have the tallest mountain to climb to reach the playoffs by March depending on how things shape out at the trade deadline.
New York Islanders
Current standing: 10th in East, 6th in Metropolitan
Games this week: 2/14 at Toronto, 2/16 vs. New York Rangers, 2/18 at New Jersey, 2/19 vs. New Jersey
Like the Bruins and the Blues, the Islanders have gotten an initial spark since firing their head coach. In place of Jack Capuano, former Oilers captain Doug Weight has his team firing on all cylinders as the Isles are 8-2-2 since Weight’s promotion to interim coach.
Like the Leafs, the Isles have four games in hand on the Black and Gold, but they currently trail the B’s by four points and only have one back to back encounter this week – a home and home against the New Jersey Devils. A matchup with the red-hot Rangers (winners of six straight) in the battle of New York is also right around the corner.
With the way John Tavares is playing since the coaching change (14 points in that span), it’s entirely possible the Isles could surpass the Bruins in points this week if they can get their second win over the Leafs in as many weeks tonight.
Current standing: 11th in East, 5th in Atlantic
Games this week: 2/15 at San Jose, 2/17 at Anaheim, 2/18 at Los Angeles
The Panthers get the distinction of heading to California for three games before the Bruins begin their trip. By Monday, they’ll have a pair of games in hand on the Black and Gold.
With a healthy Jonathan Huberdeau (five points in his first three games), the Panthers are playing their best hockey since GM Tom Rowe took over on an interim basis. The talent is there to make a run, but will it be too little, too late for the defending Atlantic Division champs? They sit six points in back of the Bruins, but at the very least they’ve re-entered the playoff race and have to be considered a darkhorse.