Monday, March 31, 2008

Two More Wins Can Seal It

Two wins in three games -- that's what the Bruins need to make the playoffs a certainty.

The point the Bruins recently garnered against the Sabres was a big one. Even if they run the table the Sabres can only manage a final tally of 91 points, which is where the Bruins stand now.

So that leaves Washington, and perhaps Carolina, as the remaining teams that could potentially squeeze the B's out of the post season. Washington can end the season with no more than 94 points, which is three more than the Bruins current total. If the B's pick up three more points then they will end in a tie with the Caps. But if that happens the Caps would have the tie breaker based on games won: the Caps would end the season with 43 wins and the B's would end with 41. So three points isn't good enough. The Bruins would be out.

Carolina stands at 90 points with three games remaining. The key game is the one between the Caps and Canes on Tuesday. About that game I know two things: I'll be watching, and I'll be rooting for the Canes. There are two basic scenarios to consider if both teams win their other two remaining games, which is quite likely given their opponents. If the Caps beat the Canes the Caps will finish with 94 points and manage a tie with the Canes, but with more wins the Canes have the tie breaker. So the only way the Caps can unseat the Canes and win their division is if the Canes lose or tie one of their other two games. If that happens, then the Canes would lose their No. 3 spot in the conference and finish with no more than 93 points. In that case the Bruins could squeak in with just three more points. But I wouldn't count on it. A better scenario is for the Canes to win. In that case the B's would face a Caps team with a mere 92 points. The Bruins would need only two more points to beat them out.

To recap the most likely scenarios:

If the Caps beat the Canes the B's would need four points. If the Canes beat the Caps two points would do the trick.

Regardless, if the Bruins win two more games nobody can catch them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Game 78 -- Ottawa Senators

Of the primary teams the Bruins are in a playoff race with going into game 78, the Caps had a win, while the Flyers and Sabres each came up with a single point.

For their part the Bruins matched up against the Ottawa Senators at home, where they earned a gutsy 4-0 win. It was a pretty interesting game. For most of the game the Bruins fought the puck, missing passes, overskating it, and just plain losing the thing. The game was much closer than the score would suggest. This was no blow out. The Sens really brought it, playing physically and with skill. But the Bruins just sort of ground them down, playing an extremely consistent game from the opening faceoff to the final horn.

A few weeks ago I was pondering what would happen if another key Bruin were to be injured. Each time this has happened the B's have faltered, made some adjustments, and returned as good as ever. What a testament to the coaching staff! Yet I wondered what would happen if something happened to Marc Savard. Given his ability to set up goals on a team that has trouble scoring, would that be too much for them to adjust to? Now that we have seen the Bruins without him for three games the answer is surprising. Not only were they able to adjust very quickly to his absence, but it seems to have been the best thing to happen to the team in a long time! Apparently his absence shocked the team out of its scoring slump. The main reason for this appears to be rookie David Krejci who in retrospect was poised to step in and step up, and this is exactly what he has done. But that isn't the only factor. Changing up the lines seems to have re-invigorated all the forwards. Muzz has suddenly found his skating legs. PJ has found his shot again, although he seems to be fighting the puck more than usual, and Sturm too has found his scoring touch. But its the kids who are now leading this team into the playoffs! Last night saw a big contribution from four forwards who are all 22 and under. And Lucic is still only 19!

Today the Bruins face the Sabres in game 79, the first of two remaining meetings between the clubs. I'm getting a bit worried about Thomas getting tired. If it were me I'd seriously consider starting Auld today. Unfortunately the pressure to win remains very high, and both the Caps and Flyers have already played and they both won. So here we go again; it's just another must win game.

I watched the end of the last game the Sabres played against Montreal. Oh, how the mighty have fallen. They blew a two-goal lead late in the third and lost in OT. I watched the Buffalo Post Game show (how come I never get to see the NESN post game show on Center Ice?) and it was like a funeral. But they aren't quite dead yet. Their only hope is to beat the Bruins today. So here we go again; it's just another must win game against a team facing virtual elimination.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Don't Get Too Comfortable

So far as the Bruins playoff hopes go their home-and-home sweep of the Leafs is a very good thing. But it does not mean that a spot in the post season can't elude them. In fact, looking at the remaining schedule I'd say they are teetering on the brink of elimination.

TSN has this great page with which to to keep track of the Bruins position daily.

It comes down to this for the Bruins in their remaining five games: three more wins and the Bruins are likely in. Three losses and they need another team to falter. Four losses and they are likely out.

The race for the last two playoff spots is now pretty much a three team thing as the Sabres continue their seeming disinterest in making the post season. Even if they run the table and win their last five games they can only manage 93 points and I doubt that would be enough. Basically, one more loss and Buffalo is out.

So that leaves Philly (88), Boston (88) and Washington (86). What worries me are their schedules. The Flyers schedule is downright daunting with five games left, playing both New Jersey and Pittsburgh twice. Both those teams are in the race for the top seed. Their only gimme is the Islanders.

The Bruins also have it cut out for them, with two each against the Senators and Sabres, and a tough one vs. the Devils. At least in theory that's an easier schedule than Philly, since the Sens are coasting to their playoff spot and the Sabres have that seeming disinterest I spoke of earlier. But obviously each of these teams can be very dangerous! If they take one vs. the Sens and one vs. the Sabres (which is the most likely outcome) then they will likely need to beat the Devils.

The Capitols have it relatively easy with two against the Panthers, one vs. the Lightening, and their only big one: Carolina. It is quite possible they will run the table, which would leave them with 94 points. Not only might that be enough to move into the top eight, but given this schedule they might still take the division from Carolina. The key game for both teams will obviously be the one where they meet. A good guess would be for the Caps to reach 92 points in the end, which would mean the Bruins must pick up at least 6 more points (I believe they have the tie breaker). If the Caps do run the table, the Bruins will need 8 points (4 wins) to best them, and in that case their best hope may be to do better than Philly or Carolina, should the Canes lose their hold on the division.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Making Sense of the Playoff Picture

If you have been following along I have been providing what I call a baseline analysis every Monday. But it is no longer required with so few games left. The latest standings provide an excellent idea of where the teams will stand at the end of the season.

That said, comparing the latest baseline values to those previous give a good idea of which teams are moving and in what direction. Of the teams near the top the Canadiens and Penguins have been steadily improving and are more or less tied for first. The Devils have faltered this week. The Senators have been remarkably consistent, motoring along playing .500 hockey.

The Leafs and Panthers have been the big upward movers. The Rangers and Flyers have inched up, while the Bruins have inched downward. The Sabres have held steady.

Here is how the eastern conference playoff picture looks on Monday, March 24:

PIT 0-6, 106
MON 0-6, 107
CAR 0-6, 99
NJD 1-6, 105
OTT 1-6, 103
NYR 3-4, 102
BOS 5-2,98
PHI 4-2, 98
WAS 6-0, 94
BUF 6-1, 95
TOR 6-0, 92
FLA 6-0, 93

The second item is how many games each team requires to make the 94 point playoff target. Although a team may make the eighth spot with fewer points, it is fairly safe to assume that if a team makes 94 points they will very likely make the playoffs.

The third item is the total number of points available should the team win all their remaining games.

Looking at the data we can see that the top seed in the conference is still up for grabs among the Canadiens, Penguins and Devils. All we can say with certainty is that these teams will be the 1, 2, and 4 seeds.

It is very unlikely that the Caps will catch the Canes for the top spot in the southeastern conference (and 3rd seed).

The Sens only need to win one of their remaining games to make the playoffs. The Rangers have done well enough that they only have to win 3 of their remaining 7.

At the bottom the Lightening and Thrashers are out of it, and it is safe to say that the Islanders and Leafs are such long shots that they are out of it too.

That leaves a 4-team logjam for the bottom two playoff slots: the Bruins, Flyers, Capitols and Sabres. Any two of these teams can make the playoffs. The Bruins and Flyers have a slim advantage and the Sabres are in a slightly better position than the Caps. For what it's worth, in the critical last four weeks the Flyers and Caps have been moving up, the Bruins have been sliding, and the Sabres have held steady. If that trend continues the Flyers will end up in 7th and the Bruins should edge the Caps for 8th, but all it would take would be a hot or cold streak by any of these teams...

Now down to the Bruins. Not making the playoffs would be easy: all they would have to do is lose their seven remaining games. To ensure they make the playoffs a 5-2 record would work nicely. Otherwise there is a simple rule of thumb: in order to steal the Bruins playoff spot, the Caps or Sabres need to win at least one more game than the Bruins. For example, if the Bruins win only 3 games, they may well find themselves out of the playoff picture should the Caps or Sabres win 4.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why Losing Twice to the Habs would be a Very Bad Thing

A very, very bad thing. Here's why: if the Bruins don't get any points against Montreal in this home-and-home series, I believe the most likely scenario is that Montreal will use those 4 points to win the conference. Meanwhile the Bruins will likely struggle for the 8th spot. See the problem now?

While playing the hated Habs in the first round of the playoffs would be absolutely historic should the Bruins win the series, history, both in the distant and recent past, says that is unlikely to happen. The Habs are a jinx--one this young team needs to face in it's first playoff series like the proverbial hole in the head.

Tomorrow, March 20, is Bobby Orr's birthday. It is also my birthday. Boys, I'm beggin' ya please, bring us a win!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Baseline Monday March 17

This weeks Baseline appears below. The Baseline is an indication of the final standings assuming all teams go .500 for the rest of the season. If a team remains steady from previous baseline they are playing .500 hockey. If they climb, they are doing better. Teams that expect to make the playoffs should generally climb for the remainder of the season.

1 NJD 100
2 PIT 99
3 CAR 91
4 MON 98
5 OTT 96
6 NYR 93
7 BOS 92
8 PHI 89
9 BUF 88
11 WAS 87
13 FLA 86
12 TOR 83
10 NYI 80
14 ATL 78
15 TBL 76

Of the teams in the thick of the division and conference title races, New Jersey, Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Carolina have all improved their position while Montreal has remained steady.

Washington has made solid gains against Carolina's hold on the southeast division title.

Of the remaining teams in the playoff hunt, the Rangers and Sabres have improved while the Bruins and Flyers have slipped a little. Washington has come on strongly, knocking on the door of both the eighth spot and the 3rd spot (by way of the southeast division title). Florida has also had a good week, although it is likely too little too late, whereas the Islanders have fallen. For a while there last week it looked as if the teams were sorting themselves out near the bottom, but it has once again become a horse race.

The Bruins are still in good stead, although they have lost some ground. With 9 games remaining they need to pick up 11 points to end up at the 94 point playoff target, which translates to going 5-3 plus an OT loss, or 4-2 and three OT losses. Remaining games are against "those who shall not be named" (2), Toronto (2), Ottawa (2), Buffalo (2), and New Jersey. Five wins alone would probably be enough to make the playoffs. They could trade wins with Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Buffalo, and either beat New Jersey or take two games from one of the others.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Great Game

"What a great game!" Believe it or not, that's what I was thinking as the seconds ticked off in the 3rd period against the Flyers and the Bruins were about to lose again. Another game, another loss, another single goal scored.

But I didn't really care. The Bruins outplayed the Flyers for most the game and completely dominated all but a few minutes in the 3rd period. They didn't win, but they deserved to. Timmy stood on his head. The power play generated excellent scoring opportunities. The penalty kill was awesome. No regrets. Well... Ok, maybe Ference could have not turned the puck over so many times...

That's exactly what I was thinking when Ference scored the tying goal with 26 seconds remaining.

When the Bruins won the game in overtime, it was just icing on the cake.

What a great game!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Bruins a Capitol Target

From the Washington Post:
"Caps fans should root for the Flyers tomorrow afternoon. Why? Because the team the Caps might be most likely to catch is now, in my opinion at least, the reeling Boston Bruins."
Those fighting words are from Corey Masisak, a writer from the Washington Post. He argues that the best chance the Capitols have to make the playoffs is for the Bruins to self destruct. He writes, "...two more losses by Boston would officially put them in a huge tailspin and maybe they don't recover."

Monday, March 10, 2008


I'm really impressed with Marco Sturm. I hadn't read it elsewhere, but the "Sturminator" has slowly but surely turned into a great two-way player. The first time I noticed it was when PJ Axelsson was out and he left a huge hole to fill on the penalty kill. It's difficult not to notice that PJ clears the zone more often than any other player, and if you can't clear the zone you are in trouble. It was Sturm who stepped up into his vacant position. PJ was barely missed! And since then Sturm has been a big reason why the Bruins PK has been much improved. But not only that, but he's often to be found out there quietly back checking 5 on 5. Sturm, who usually gets noticed because he now leads the Bruins in scoring with 24 goals, is also a healthy +8, second only to Axelsson among Bruins forwards. You heard it here first--if he keeps this up Sturm could be a Selke candidate some day.

I'm really impressed with Phil Kessel. It's been fun watching him change from a raw kid who looked like he was scared to death out there into a smarter, feistier, more confident and more physical player. The great thing about Kessel is that he just keeps improving. Not by leaps and bounds, but by small, sure steps. His youthful bad habits have been painful to watch at times, yet one by one they slowly shrink and disappear. Most recently he had been flying into the offensive zone only to turn the puck over, creating a rush the other way. I kept saying to myself that it was only a matter of time before the team got burned, and sure enough, in the recent OT loss against the Panthers it was one of these rushes that led to the losing goal. But the great thing about Kessel is that he hasn't made that mistake again. Suddenly he's being more creative entering the zone and doing a much better job protecting the puck. Kessel has 32 points on the season and has improved to -5. It may seem odd to say for a kid who made the NHL at 19, but I think Kessel is a late bloomer. I think in ten years this guy is going to be considered one of the great forwards of his generation.

I'm really impressed with David Krejci. Once he finally got his first goal in that shootout winner he went on a three-game scoring streak. But more importantly, in the last couple of games he's raised his overall level of play dramatically. Where Kessel has taken months to improve Krejci has exploded overnight. Suddenly brimming with confidence he's playing with enormous energy and grit. Mark my words, when the Bruins make the playoffs he's going to be a huge contributor. In 43 games David Krejci has 18 points and is a -7. Those numbers are somewhat misleading because they reflect his youthful lack of confidence, which has now very suddenly come to an end.

I'm really impressed with Milan Lucic. I almost didn't mention "Looch." Not because I don't think he is impressive--he's downright awesome! It's just that if you are reading this and haven't heard about his exploits then you must have been under a rock somewhere. This huge kid is going to be the dominant power forward in the NHL. Milan Lucic has 21 points, is -2, and at 19 has already beaten the crap out of just about every tough guy in the NHL.

To those fans out there who gave up on the Bruins when the lockout came or when Thornton was traded, I say, wake up! The future of the Bruins is brighter than it's been since... well, 1967.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Baseline March 9th

This weeks Baseline appears below. The Baseline is an indication of the final standings assuming all teams go .500 for the rest of the season. If a team remains steady from previous baselines they are playing .500 hockey. If they climb, they are doing better. Teams that expect to make the playoffs should generally climb for the remainder of the season.

1 NJD 99
2 MON 98
3 CAR 90
4 PIT 97
5 OTT 95
6 NYR 94
7 BOS 93
8 PHI 91
9 BUF 87
11 WAS 84
10 NYI 83
13 FLA 83
12 TOR 82
14 ATL 80
15 TBL 73

Of the teams in the thick of the division and conference title races, New Jersey, Montreal, Pittsburgh, and Carolina have all improved their position while Ottawa has remained steady.

Carolina has solidified its hold on the southeast division title.

Of the remaining teams in the playoff hunt, the Rangers have jumped past the Bruins, while the Bruins have held steady. The Islanders and Panthers have also improved their positions somewhat.

A good target for making the playoffs remains 94 points. For the Bruins to make that total they will need to go one point better than .500 for the remaining 13 games. Here's hoping they are over their Jeckyll and Hyde routine and start playing more consistently. If they do they should end with 95 points or more.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Bruins Suddenly Lacking

Over the years I've been told I had blinders on, called a Jacobs apologist, etc. And it's true that I think being a fan means standing by the team through thick and thin. That can mean finding something to cheer for in the triumphs of a single player when winning as a team is elusive, or in a single victory when the playoffs are beyond reach. And it means that I derive no pleasure in angry rants against the players, coaches, management, or ownership. It's likely the reason I feel this way is that I was not born to the Bruins. They were never my team because Boston was the city I lived in. I did not inherit them from my father. Long ago I consciously chose the Bruins as my team; they did not choose me. I don't feel they owe me a Stanley Cup run every year.

But even I have my limits! All I've ever asked for was effort. Win or lose, just do your best and I'll be satisfied. That is my personal pact with my team.

Forget the score last night. Forget the opponent. What I can't get out of my mind is players standing around; defensemen looking like fence posts as opponents swirl past them; goaltenders literally surrounded by opposing players.

Is this how it's going to end? After everything they've been through all year? After bouncing back big again and again when they suffered a setback. After fighting through injuries that mixed up lines and brought up young players from Providence who would rise to the challenge? Are they going to just give up, becoming last years team again, proving the nay sayers right all along?

I was so angry after last night's "effort" that I told my wife that I thought the players should be forced to stand outside the Garden and personally write refund checks to everyone who attended.

'Nuf said.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Baseline

I've come up with an analysis of the eastern conference standings that I call the Baseline. It represents the final standings if each team goes .500 for the rest of the season. This is useful for two reasons: it accounts for the differing numbers of games left to play for each team and given how difficult it is to climb in the standings when games can be worth three points it provides a reasonable indication of the final standings.

1 PIT 97
2 NJ 97
3 CAR 87
4 MON 96
5 OTT 95
6 BOS 93
7 NYR 92
8 PHI 89
9 BUF 88
10 NYI 85
11 WAS 85
12 TOR 82
13 FLA 81
14 ATL 80
15 TBL 75

I doubt any of the contending teams is going to go on a big losing streak. So the final standings will be determined by which teams can do better than .500.

Looking at the table we can see that first place in the conference is very much up for grabs. Nobody is going to inherit the conference title based on their current record. Excluding Carolina, any one of the top 7 teams has a legitimate shot provided they can manage a significant winning streak in their remaining games.

The race for the southeast division title is pretty much between Carolina and Washington. The division title is the only way any teams from the southeast are going to the playoffs. Washington is going to have to pick up 3 or more points against Carolina, which is very possible.

The eighth and final spot is also very much up for grabs. It's safe to say that Tampa Bay is out of it. Atlanta, Florida and Toronto are also long shots. The bubble teams are the Senators, Bruins, Rangers, Flyers, Sabres, and Islanders. That's six teams vying for four spots.

As for the Bruins, as long as they can go .500 for their remaining games they should make it to the post season. If they go on another winning streak the conference title is in reach.

I'll redo the analysis every few days to see how things shake out.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Pick Your Poison

So last night the Bruins got handed a 10-2 drubbing by the Caps. I hate to say it, but I sort of saw it coming. I forget where, but I kept seeing this headline. It said something to the effect that there were good signs for the Bruins in their OT win against Atlanta. And I kept thinking, "Really?" Because I thought just the opposite. The game against Atlanta had all the seeds of the loss to the Caps. The Bruins had an easy time gaining the zone and setting up for a shot, yet almost all of them seemed to miss the net. It could have been 10-2 Bruins, yet it went to OT. And as the game wore on, particularly after the Bruins tied it in the 3rd, they seemed to run down as a team.

Fortunately I was once again saved from seeing a painful loss because the game was on Versus, which meant it was blacked out on Center Ice. The Bruins are now 2-4 on Versus having had opposing scores of 10, 8 and 6! What's up with that? Is it a Versus jinx? There may be another jinx at work: against Huet this year the Bruins are 0-4. Of course the other losses against Huet came when he was playing for "that team." You know, the team that shall not be named. Against them the Bruins are 0-6 and have been outscored 32-12.

The remaining games of the season are not going to be easy. The Bruins own their destiny, as the teams in front of them face challenges out west while they have the opportunity to beat up on those trailing behind. Every win will take them one step closer to the playoffs and perhaps even a Division or Conference title. But few of any of the remaining games will be easy. They play Huet and co. again on Saturday. Next week brings embarrassed Ottawa and Tampa Bay teams that will be out for revenge. And of course before its all over they will face the unmentionables twice.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Will the Bruins Make the Playoffs?

Last March I looked at the Bruins playoff chances. At the time there were 13 games left and it was expected that in order to make the 8th spot the Bruins would have to pick up 20 points by going 10-3. Of course that didn't happen, and it didn't surprise anyone. Writing that post, I had the same feeling of doom I often experienced in the 3rd period last year, regardless of the score. The Bruins so often found a way to lose. I knew that the team hadn't found itself and it was unlikely that it would in the short time remaining.

So where are we this year? I get the sense that most Bruins fans have been collectively holding their breath since October. Waiting to see. Waiting for the breakdown, the losing streak, the great fall in the standings. And I've been one of them. But somewhere along the line, and I can't point to a particular moment, I got used to winning. Ever so slowly I lost that sense of doom in the 3rd--that here we go again feeling--and it's been replaced with a calm confidence. I now enjoy most games from start to finish; like the Bruins I simply assume they are going to win, and if they don't? Well, it's no big deal. They will get it back the next game.

With 18 games left, and a generally agreed upon target of 94 points to make the playoffs, the Bruins need 18 points. That's 1 point per game or 0.500 hockey. Can they do that? There is no question in my mind that they can. And they will. Just as last year that 3-rd period sense of doom made it seem unlikely that the Bruins would find a winning streak, this years calm confidence tells me not to worry.