Games in hand. Are they a blessing or a curse from the Hockey Gods?
Well, the Boston Bruins are going to find out both in the short term and over the long haul just how fruitful or rotten they can be in 2022. Because for the B’s, these additional games will come in bunches over the next few weeks.
To wit: four games in six nights this week, including the start of the longest home stretch of the season (seven games with the recently rescheduled Montreal tilt happening ahead of the Flyers game for a tough back-to-back).
Here’s how many games the B’s currently have “in hand” on the team’s they are chasing in both the division race and wildcard playoff picture after Tuesday’s contests wrap up:
- Toronto Maple Leafs – 2
- Tampa Bay Lightning – 6
- Florida Panthers – 4
- Pittsburgh Penguins – 3
With the B’s currently spotted as the No. 2 Wild Card team — so basically the 8th seed in the East — they’ve got plenty of wiggle room to make a push at surpassing Pittsburgh (only five points behind with two games in hand after a rousing victory over the Caps on Monday) AND catching up to Tampa (more than a dozen points to make up but with six additional games to do it).
This, of course, assumes the Bruins will WIN their games in hand between now and mid-February when they are most likely to make them up as I mentioned in my latest Mark Your Bruins Calendar series.
And taking a huge road win away from the Bolts over the weekend, to mention the touchdown-beats-a-field-goal game versus the Caps, was a great way to show themselves in the rear view mirror to the team’s ahead of them. Objects may appear closer than they are.
And the B’s are close. Well, at least closing in. They’ve got plenty of separation room too because the team’s chasing them also have played more games than Boston. And not just a few.
Let’s also take a look at where they stand based on games played through Tuesday night, with the number reflecting the Bruins’ games in hand on each opponent (reminder: the B’s are up anywhere from four to seven points on each team):
- Detroit Red Wings – 5
- Columbus Blue Jackets – 2
- Philadelphia Flyers – 3
- New Jersey Devils – 4
So, what type of overall picture do the standings, combined with the games in hand, paint for the Bruins as they get ready to play some busy stretches of hockey in early 2022?
It’s plain to see both the PROS and CONS to their current covid-induced predicament. Let’s go over the key ones to keep an eye on between now and March.
- The B’s can close the gap on the coveted “Top Three” in the Atlantic Division and make a real push to lock in a non-wild card spot come Spring (best case scenario). This would require Boston to basically win four of their games in hand on both Florida teams and most definitely each of the games Toronto currently spots them.
- The additional game time makes way for more #TuukkaTime in Boston. That’s right, Tuukka Rask will have the opportunity to make a much bigger impact on the team in 2022 than originally planned since he’ll have more games to potentially play in now. That’s conditional on the B’s organization putting him — and their other two goalies, Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman — in positions to succeed, however, be they in Boston or Providence.
- Playing more games during a compacted schedule stretch will obviously mean more wear and tear on a team already fighting injury and health concerns (the ailing Nick Foligno, and perhaps even Trent Frederic, being the latest manpower loss[es]). Regardless of how the B’s do in their games in hand, there’s a chance — without a sizable acquisition or two at the deadline — that they could just be out of gas come playoff time.
- The Bruins will need to not just use, but perhaps overuse, their taxi squad as much as their top players to stay afloat. And treading water in a loaded division and conference will get you sunk in the first round, assuming the B’s stay hot and healthy enough to get there. This could also lead to more “trade requests” or the possibility of the B’s becoming “sellers” at the deadline if they go cold when the schedule and games start heating up!
Make sure to check back in with the BN’G after every B’s game, including the ones in hand, for more creative Boston Bruins content!