Photo: Elise Amendola, AP
By Thomas Nyström | Follow on twitter @nahstrom
Last nights 6-5 overtime win over the visiting Detroit Red Wings marked the beginning of the stretch-run for the rest of the regular season. It was also the first of what will be a Bruins game every other day until the end of the schedule. This will no doubt be a trying and tough few weeks for the Boston Bruins as it includes a lot of travel and hard opponents including two trips to Florida to face the Panthers who are hot as of late and sitting just two points out of a wild card spot. While in the area, the B’s will face the conference leading Tampa Bay Lightning twice as well. Additionally, both teams from the sunshine state will make at least one trip to the TD Garden — Tampa Bay for one game, Florida twice (one being a make-up game) — so we’re looking at 7 of the final 18 games against just them alone.
Tomorrows contest with the Philadelphia Flyers whom are 6-2-2 in their last 10 and sitting in 3rd place in the Metropolitan Division. Looking ahead at the schedule at other games against playoff / playoff caliber teams include Columbus at home, plus Minnesota, Winnipeg, Dallas, Philadelphia and St. Louis on the road.
So feasibly, what can we expect for the Bruins in terms of record at the end of the season? Earlier this week I put up a twitter poll in preparation for this article and the results were quite definitive.
Before I layout my prediction we must consider a number of contributing factors, first let’s take a look at the remaining schedule:
Thu. March 8 7pm vs PHI
Sat. March 10 1pm vs CHI
Sun. March 11 12:30pm @ CHI
Tue. March 13 7pm @ CAR
Thu. March 15 7:30pm @ FLA
Sat. March 17 7pm @ TBL
Mon. March 19 7pm vs CBJ
Wed. March 21 8pm @ STL
Fri. March 23 8:30pm @ DAL
Sun. March 25 7:30 @ MIN
Tue. March 27 8pm @ WPG
Thu. March 29 7pm vs TBL
Sat. March 31 1pm vs FLA
Sun. April 1 12:30pm @ PHI
Tue. April 3 7:30pm @ TBL
Thu. April 5 7:30pm @ FLA
Sat. April 7 7pm vs OTT
Sun. April 8 7:30pm vs FLA
So lets start right off the clip with the biggest story of the week: Charlie McAvoy missing time due to his left MCL sprain. Remember this: Charlie is being evaluated in 4 weeks. Until then he’s expected to be in a brace and not skating. Best case scenario is that the next month goes by and he’s cleared and he’s right back on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara. Bad news, that isn’t going to happen. We would all love to see it, but the idea of McAvoy returning by April 1st at Philadelphia is probably an unreasonable ask for him. If he gets looked at, feels right enough to get some work in then we might see him for the final weekend of the season when the Bruins finish off the season with Ottawa and Florida. Silver lining here is the defensive depth is going to get quality time in, and in no short supply with the brutal schedule the Bruins are staring in the face.
Patrice Bergeron is also being evaluated in a few weeks, and with the fracture that he suffered is also unable to skate. We’re well aware of the fact that Bergeron is a professional and will not take much time to get right back into game shape following his hiatus. Possibly looking at some reduced minutes initially, or perhaps just simply getting a few extra games off leading up to the playoffs.
Lastly, just consider the quality of opponents and the on/off schedule Boston has left. Some less than desirable travel days loom, and there will not be a lot of time to rest up. There will be more injuries, hopefully nothing major but there are going to be guys banged up without question. It will be interesting to see how coach Bruce Cassidy handles his rotations and scratches over the next few weeks.
Boston Bruins record as of Wednesday, March 7th is 41-15-8, with 90 points.
All that said, here’s where I see it:
The most anticipated and undoubtedly important games remaining come against the Tampa Bay Lightning. 18 games left for a maximum of 36 points out for the taking. With 3 games against conference leading Tampa Bay, I predict the Bruins will go 1-1-1 head-to-head in March and April. The Lightning are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games including a current win streak of 3 games. This team is legit, no one doubts that. The Bruins are no slouches either, and will take three points out of the Bolts. It’s not an easy call to predict an OT loss with Boston’s recent success in extra frames, but Tampa Bay will take it if that one is on their home ice. Contrarily, I feel the same that if a game went to overtime in Boston, it would be the Bruins taking the extra point.
Another key matchup would be the two games remaining against Philadelphia. One home on March 8th and one on the road April 1st. The Flyers are a more dangerous team than their record may suggest. Certainly their goal differential isn’t ideal at +4, but this team can surprise people. Although they failed to use the deadline as a way to bolster their roster for the playoffs with GM Ron Hextall admitting the prices for rentals were too high for his liking stating they were in this ‘for the long haul’, and he wasn’t going to make ‘emotional decisions’. Probably the correct play on his part as Philadelphia aren’t necessarily considered true cup contenders — but they sure are built to play spoiler if teams aren’t careful. I believe the Bruins have enough depth to take the full 4 points from them, but wouldn’t be shocked if they split the difference with the Flyers.
A stretch we should also be looking at is March 21st through March 27th where within that seven days the Bruins travel to St. Louis, Dallas, Minnesota, and Winnipeg who are all strong teams in the West. Only the Blues are currently on the outside looking in with regards to the playoffs — however they only sit 2 points outside of the wild card. If the Bruins come to each of these games and match the hunger and compete level I would call taking 5 out of a possible 8 points as being a ‘win’ for that road trip. Oh, and incase you were wondering their next game coming off that is against Tampa Bay. Are we all starting to see how insane this schedule is about to be? Good grief.
And now my prediction:
The final stretch: 10-7-1 in the final 18 games, good for 21 points.
Overall 2017-2017 record: 51-22-9, with 111 points.
Here are some other predictions from our BNG Staff:
Court LaLonde 53-19-10, 116 points
Lauren Campbell 52-22-8, 112 points
Spencer Fascetta 50-22-10, 110 points
Mike Cratty 52-21-9, 113 points
KG 51-20-11, 113 points
If McAvoy and Bergeron were were healthy then the prediction would be 117 points on the nose. I even believe thats still possible, as predicted by our own Court LaLonde, because of the depth, and players like Rick Nash and Jake DeBrusk getting hot. Brad Marchand being — well, himself. The 4th line being one of the best and most productive in the NHL. Even the defensive depth like Nick Holden and Matt Grzelcyk getting increased playing time is not a bad thing if you take into account that the ultimate goal is a deep playoff run.
Regardless, playing slightly above .500 hockey which is below our true expectations for this team but reasonable for what they face over the next 4 1/2 weeks. If the Bruins play .500 hockey from tomorrow’s game and through the end of the season we shouldn’t be surprised, though I’m sure panic would rain down on hockey twitter in the form of blaming a goaltender, an aging defender, or unproven youth. Remember folks, when they’re hot you love every single piece of this team — as you should.
Let’s all take this final stretch for what it really is. It’s a test. A test that Sweeney and Cassidy appear ready to handle.
Thomas Nyström, Contributor.
Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom