The Florida Panthers easily could've folded now, in light of chasing the Bruins forever and the very-recently-red-hot Ottawa Senators passing them. They have not, though they're barely clinging to the idea of a playoff spot with six games left to go. Two of those last six are against Boston, so it's up to the Black and Gold to push them over the edge. If the Panthers are going to make a playoff push, it's going to be without breakout centerman Nick Bjugstad, who is slated to miss the rest of the season with back surgery.
Once again, your remaining schedules of the teams shooting for 8th:
Bruins: FLA, at DET, TOR, at WSH, at FLA*, at TBL
Senators (3 points back, one game in hand): at DET, TBL, WSH, at TOR*, PIT, NYR, PHI
Panthers (4 points back): at BOS, CAR, TBL, MON*, BOS, NJ
A couple things stick out, as there's good things about each team's schedule.
- First of all, you give the Bruins the edge because of the three point lead, but they have the most road games here and that includes a road back-to-back where they have to play a game in DC and fly to Florida for the Panthers game the following day. The only game that isn't against a playoff contending team is the home tilt vs. Toronto this Saturday.
- The Bruins and Senators don't play each other. Given the way the season series went, I'm calling this a slight edge for the B's as well.
- The advantages for the Senators would be getting five of these seven games at home, as well the obvious extra game to make up ground. The downside for Ottawa is that five of seven games remaining on the schedule are against playoff teams, and one of the remaining two is a road back-to-back.
- The Panthers probably have the best schedule remaining, combining two games against one of the teams they're chasing (Boston) with two relative softies in home dates against Carolina and New Jersey. The obvious flip side is that they need to make up more ground than any team here. And again, no Bjugstad.
Capitals (3 points ahead of Bruins, WC Spot): CAR, at MON, at OTT, at DET*, BOS, NYR
Red Wings (3 points ahead of Bruins, one game in hand, 3rd Atlantic Spot): OTT, BOS, at MIN, WAS*, CAR, at MON, at CAR
I don't think either of these teams falls out, but their spots aren't necessarily safe. Firstly, the only back-to-back on either's schedule is a game where they play each other, which seems like a wash. The Caps schedule is fairly challenging, with their only remaining "easy" game coming tonight, but that three-point cushion over the 8th place spot means they're 6 up on 9th. Ditto+ for Detroit, who has an extra game and plays two against Carolina.
Suffice to say, I don't think either one falls out, but they're potentially catchable given that Carolina is the only non-playoff-contending team in either's schedule.
Back to tonight's task. If you've somehow missed how Florida plays this year, they run an extremely structured system that produces a fair amount of close games. They also have Roberto Luongo, who is such a hilariously large upgrade on their goaltending last season that it's hard to quantify.
The Fancycats; 10th in the East, 85 Points
Florida is coming in 6-3-1 in their last ten. They likely need to win both match-ups with Boston to think about still being in this. A regulation loss tonight cripples their chances, as they'd be left trying to make up six points with five games to go.
Brandon Pirri - Vincent Trocheck - Jimmy Hayes
Johnathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Steven Kampfer
Scottie Upshall - Derek McKenzie - Tomas Kopecky
Huberdeau leads this group in points with 49. Trocheck, Florida's 3rd round pick from 2011, has been slotted in at Bjugstad's usual spot. As, you might have heard of this Jagr guy, whose two goals vs. Ottawa were the difference in Sunday's contest. With Bjugstad and his 24 goals out, the leading sniper on the team is Pirri, who has 20 (and only 2 assists...somehow). Barkov (14-17-31) and Hayes (18-13-31) have chipped in nicely this season in Gerard Gallant's clog-the-middle system.
Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad
Willie Mitchell - Alex Petrovic
Erik Gudbranson - Dmitry Kulikov
Campbell's having another good year to go along with Ekblad's Calder-candidate season. The rest of the defensive corps for Florida is solid, if unspectacular.
And In Net:
Robert Luongo (probable)
Reportably, Luongo's feeling good and ready to go after being bothered by a shoulder injury. It looks like Ellis will be his back-up as Al Montoya hasn't played since the 3rd of this month (upper body injury).
Your Suddenly-Surging Boston Bruins; 8 in the East, 89 Points
The Bruins hit or miss pattern continues with two straight wins after a six-game winless streak. You know all the issues by now, so let's get to those line-ups.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Krejci
Milan Lucic - Ryan Spooner - David Pastrnak
Loui Eriksson - Carl Soderberg - Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly - Gregory Campbell - Maxime Talbot
Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci has worked well, which is both a relief and another indictment of Reilly Smith's run of play before Krejci's return. Lucic & the Cubs continue to produce, accounting for the Bruins regulation goal vs. Carolina and two of the goal vs. NYR. Pastrnak added the game winner with a different line OT, but you get the idea -- the players on this line have been lighting the lamp. Say what you will about them needing to be sheltered (it really doesn't help that Chara is now the only D-Man who consistently clears the zone against toughs, and we can't play him with every line), but the goals have been a godsend on this year's edition of the B's.
Carl has heated up a bit recently too, which has been nice after his two-month-ish slumber, and I'd guess that forth line will be without Paille again. Bergeron is now one off the team-leading Marchand with 21 goals, while Spooner leads the Bruins in markers since his call-up.
Zdeno Chara - Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug - Dennis Seidenberg
Matt Bartkowski - Zach Trotman
I don't even really want to talk about these pairings. But hey, two wins in a row and it's not like there's a bevy of alternatives.
And In Net:
As long as Tuukka's over his migraines, it's gotta be Rask in tonight. If Svedberg gets another start, I'm guessing it's either Saturday or one of next Wed/Thur.
The Bruins already essentially eliminated Philadelphia with a head-to-head victory earlier this spring, and this is a similar game. While the Panthers could rebound from a loss here tonight, it's extremely unlikely. There's a lot at stake, and, even with no Nick Bjugstad on the other side, the B's will need to bring their A-Game.