With last night's loss to the Florida Panthers--the team's 5th straight, and 6th in their last 7 games--the Bruins failed to add to their total of 86 points. They've been at that total since the 12th of March, the last game of their six-game points streak in a win against the New York Islanders. With just 7 games remaining in the 2015-16 season, and a handful of teams battling for the final spots in the Eastern Conference, the Bruins have gone from being safely in the postseason to full-on arsonists, playing with fire night in & night out.
But while the Bruins missing the playoffs is certainly possible, is it actually realistic? Do the other teams in the mix have a real shot at leapfrogging the Black & Gold on their way to the Divisional round? When looking at the roads ahead for the Bruins, Penguins, Red Wings, Islanders, and Flyers, it seems that no one is truly safe.
Boston has just 12 points so far this month, with two games to go. The team hasn't had a month like this since they stumbled out of the gate to start the year, when they had two separate three-game losing streaks in their first 13 games. They would need to go 5-2-0 or 4-1-2 over the next two weeks to match their point total from last year, and we all painfully remember that 96 points wasn't enough to get them over the hump.
With a current record of 39-28-8, their Point Percentage of .573 is 9th in the East, just behind the Flyers (.578) and Red Wings (.574). And when applied to their remaining 7 games, a .573 Pt% only gives Boston 94 points. It's a little bit of déjà vu, despite the fact that they played better down the stretch last year, just were surpassed by a historic run from the Ottawa Senators. They might have one of the easier schedules remaining--opponents have a Point Percentage of .549--but the lack of games remaining really hurts them.
Up until last night, Detroit needs the most help of all teams to obtain a postseason spot. A win over the Montreal Canadiens changed that. They currently trail Boston by just one point for the last spot in the Atlantic division, with a game in hand over the Bruins at only 8 games left. Like the Bruins, they also have four games on the road, although only the final two are back-to-back. Their last game at Joe Louis Arena could potentially come on April 6th against Philadelphia (we'll get to them later), unless they perform well at TD Garden and Madison Square Garden. Fortunately for them, Detroit has the easiest remaining schedule of the five bubble teams. FIve of their remaining 8 games are against teams with as many or fewer points than them, the only exceptions coming against the Penguins, Rangers, and--you guessed it--Boston Bruins. Even if Detroit loses to the superior teams, beating their peers would bring them within a point of Boston, and losses in overtime would add to that still.
Pittsburgh has been fired out of a cannon this month. After hearing that franchise forward Evgeni Malkin would be missing for the next several weeks, many thought it would be the death knoll in the Pens playoff hopes, opening the door for the Flyers to grab a Wild Card spot. Instead, Sidney Crosby and crew have proceeded beat the Rangers, Flyers, Islanders, and Capitals by a combined score of 17-7, on their way to a 6-1-0 record since the Malkin injury during their win over Columbus on March 11th. Their first and only slip-up came last night against the Devils. While the Penguins have statistically the toughest schedule of the group--facing a Opponent Point Percentage of .589--with a 3-point lead over the Red Wings and Flyers, and a game-in-hand over Detroit, they're very unlikely to fall out of contention at this point.
The Islanders have had a tough go over their last ten games, in part due to the loss of Jaroslav Halak, and compounded by some scoring slumps in their forward group. Still, a win over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night gave them a four-point cushion over the Flyers for the 1st Wild Card spot, and put them one point back of Pittsburgh for the 3rd Metropolitan seed. With one of the tougher schedules ahead, they certainly aren't a lock for the playoffs. But two games-in-hand on the Red Wings makes their current lead on Detroit bigger than it currently appears. And they'll need that help, since 5 of their final 6 games are against current playoff teams. Even if they were to fall remain a Wild Card team, they still have a good shot at finishing ahead of Boston.
Helped by last night's win over the Colorado Avalanche, the Flyers have made a huge push to the postseason over the last six weeks, going 15-6-5 since the start of February. Over their last 14, they've been even better at 10-2-2, which has launched them past the Detroit Red Wings into the final Wild Card spot in the East. With a 9 games remaining, and one of the easier schedules in the bunch, the Wells Fargo center looks more and more like it will be hosting at least two games come late April. The only concerning thing about their schedule is that the season ends with three consecutive back-to-backs. And with Michael Neuvirth injured, they only have one solid goaltender in Steve Mason to carry them the rest of the way. But a win over Detroit on April 6th could mitigate those concerns before they even get to the final three games.
So will Boston make the postseason? I'd still say it's likely, despite their recent slump. The Bruins would have to underachieve against equal competition, and get blown out in regulation against the superior teams. The good news is that the Bruins still have a lead holding onto a divisional spot. The bad news is that if they were to somehow fall out of that spot, they'll probably also be behind both Metropolitan Wild Card teams.
The truth is, while they may ice a better team, they don't control their own destiny anymore. Boston will need help from Detroit, Philly, or the Islanders if they want to play a playoff series this spring, because they certainly aren't helping themselves right now.