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by: Ty Anderson on Mon, 03/20/2017 - 6:42pm
With 11 games left in the 2015 season, the Bruins went on a 5-3-3 ‘slide’ of sorts to end the season, and took their own fate out of their hands with a three-game losing streak to close out their season. They finished in ninth place that year and were denied a playoff spot. With 11 games left in the 2016 season, the Bruins embarked on a skid that started with a four-game losing streak and the club went on to win just three more games before the season came to a close. They finished that year in ninth place and straight-up gagged their way out of a postseason berth for the second straight season.
And with 11 games left in their 2017 season, the Bruins begin their most important week of the year.
Of course they do.
It starts tonight against the Maple Leafs. The Maple Leafs are just three points behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and have a game in hand over the club. The Leafs, by the way, have won all three prior head-to-heads with the B’s and have outscored them 14-to-7. Then it’s back to Boston for a home game against the Senators. Like the Leafs, the Sens have yet to drop a game to the B’s this season, and sit four points above the Bruins for second place in the Atlantic. Thursday comes with a meeting against the Bolts, a team with six wins in their last 10 games and in desperation mode of search of a playoff berth, so that should not be an easy night, even if it's played in Boston. And the week ends with a Saturday night game in Brooklyn against the Isles. The Islanders are 16-9-4 under Doug Weight and sit one point out of playoff contention heading into Monday’s games, so that should be another heavy, intense game.
(If you see a gimme on that slate, please let me know, because it’s simply not there.)
And this is where you find yourself holding your breath with this team.
The Bruins are lucky to be where they are right now, and there’s no way around saying that.
For a team whose playoff hopes and percentages dropped to nearly 20 percent sometime in January, the Bruins have rebounded and emerged as a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. The amount of character wins -- two wins against the Sharks, a home shutout against the Canadiens, and snapping the Flames’ franchise-record 10-game winning streak last week -- is impressive, too. Still, a bad week this time of year -- and against these opponents, especially -- nullifies almost all of that and could put the Black and Gold back in the familiar territory of scoreboard watching.
“When the snow starts melting, there’s generally more urgency,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy, who has won 12 of 16 games since taking over for the leader of back-to-back meltdowns (Claude Julien) back in February, said after a morning skate in Toronto. “And our team will be no different. We should have that level of urgency tonight, the next day, and the night after that.”
The Bruins have said that they’ve been playing playoff hockey really since Cassidy took over the club, which is not wrong given where they were at that point in time, but it’s actually real now. Or as real as it can be without having the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo painted on the ice beneath your blades.
We also can’t deny the fact that these are the games that the Bruins have dropped on a consistent basis to propel their fall out of playoff contention over the last two seasons, and these are the games that give the Bruins a chance to show that this isn’t happening again. And you feel as if you need that latter point pounded home this week after the first real stinker of the Cassidy Era came in the club’s last game, a 7-4 loss to the Oilers, and one that nearly sullied an otherwise promising road swing.
“Our last game was probably the first time under Bruce’s helm that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Bruins forward David Backes said of the club’s task at hand this week. “That’s disheartening on one hand, but on the other hand, we’ve put a lot of good games together. We’ve gotta erase that from our memories, learn from a few of the things we did, erase it, throw it away, and have a great [game] and worry about the next one after that.”
But Backes and the B’s gain little by looking at the week as a whole. And opting to do so would go against what’s been preached by Cassidy, who has put an almost Belichickian spin on his team’s mindset, with a focus on the opponent in front of their face at that very moment. (Which has worked.)
“Every two points for every team this time of year is crucial and critical,” Backes admitted. “But we need to keep our focus narrow and worry about one game at a time because you look at ‘Oh, you gotta beat Toronto.. Oh you gotta beat Ottawa, oh you gotta beat Tampa, oh you gotta beat -- I don’t even know who we play after that -- the task becomes much larger than it actually is.”
In a best case scenario situation, a clean sweep or three of four wins puts the Bruins in a situation where they are both challenging for second or maybe even first place in the Atlantic, but also largely in control of their own destiny, which is something that has been taken out of their hands in back-to-back seasons. Again, it’s a lot simpler than what can happen if it all goes to hell once again.
In a worst case scenario doomsday week from hell for the Bruins, who have still yet to lose back-to-back games since Cassidy took over as the team’s coach, the Bruins allow the Leafs to sweep the season series, gain on them and come within one point of third place in the Atlantic, as alluded to earlier. If that happens, and assuming the Leafs win their game in hand over the Bruins, the B’s are bumped and now have to either finish with as many points (they hold the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker over the Leafs by a fair margin) or more to jump back out of a wild card situation. If they lose to the Sens, a chance at second place in the division may go out the window, which means that the B’s would start on the road against either them or the Canadiens in round one. Neither building has been particularly kind to the Black and Gold in recent years. Losses to either the Bolts or Islanders would allow those teams to continue their climb back from the dead much like the Senators did in 2015, which only hurt the B’s if history is any indication of what would follow.
So, yeah, it’s safe to suggest that there’s a lot on the line.
Each day seems bigger than the last, too.
“It’s a big week, but we have to take it one game at a time,” said Brad Marchand. “We’ve been pretty good lately because of the way we prepare for games and prepare for each and every one.”
With 11 games left in their season, the Bruins are going to act like there’s just one.