So, here's the skinny: the Boston Bruins were unable to beat Keith Kinkaid on Tuesday night, and thus, even with the Detroit Red Wings falling apart against the Montreal Canadiens the same night, the Bruins are still only leading Detroit by a point with five games to go. Let's contrast their remaining schedules:
Third-Place Race (teams even on ROW tiebreak, one-point lead for BOS):
|Detroit Red Wings||MIN||@TOR||OFF||OFF||OFF||PHI||@BOS||OFF||@NYR|
The good news is, apparently the NHL schedule-makers sat around at a table during last year's schedule-making-conference and someone said, "let's just frigging exhaust the Detroit Red Wings down the stretch run this year, how about it?" and I guess everyone thought that was hilarious, because my goodness.
It's not that the schedule for Boston, opponent-wise, is way easier, it's more the condensing Detroit's game. Every single game that the Bruins play from now on has at least a day off in-between, whereas Detroit plays two back-to-backs and one third-game-in-four days as part of this sequence. One of those back-to-backs is the key match-up at TD Garden on April 7th.
Realistically, the Bruins best chance to keep a playoff spot is simply to stay ahead of Detroit. Other scenarios are still technically possible--the Bruins, being as streaky a team as you'll see, might reel off five straight and catch a Floridian team, or the Philadelphia Flyers or New York Islanders might tumble--but the games-in-hand of every wild card-competitor means that it's not that likely. The New Jersey Devils team which the B's lost to on Tuesday evening are still alive too, though just barely.
The Philadelphia Flyers, currently in the second wild card spot, is a point ahead of Boston's total and has a game in hand. The New York Islanders are 3 points ahead of the Bruins and have two games in hand. It'd take a total collapse over the last seven games for the Isles to miss, and the Flyers would have to undertake a similar swoon to do worse than finishing neck-and-neck with Boston. Remember, each division sends three teams, and then you factor in WC totals as a free for all. A non-division team passing Boston doesn't hurt them, as long as they hold onto the third spot in the Atlantic.
The tough part of this? Well, the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks aren't exactly chopped liver this season, the "easy" games for the B's might not be as easy as they're supposed to be what with the lack of "home-ice advantage" translating to reality this season, and that head-to-head match-up has a potential to swing things in one direction or another.
Detroit has the much tougher road to the third Atlantic spot, but Boston absolutely needs to holding serve. It's one thing to hold an advantage, it's another to actually see it out.