Off The Draw
It’s too early to write the postmortem on the 2014-15 Bruins’ season just yet. After all, the B’s remain in the hunt after 81 games, and with a win in their finale on Saturday night in Tampa, they just might sneak into the playoffs for the eighth straight season.
But if they do, it will be a step back for the organization.
If you want to believe that every ticket to the postseason offers a clean slate and an equal one-in-16 chance to win the Stanley Cup, be my guest. But the truth is you could spot this group a two games to none lead on the Rangers in the first round and Boston would be done in six.
This team is beaten. Mentally, physically and by any other measure you care to offer. Sneaking into the postseason won't change that.
That five-game winning streak that allowed them to remain in the mix entering the season’s final week? A mirage, as any critical viewer could tell. “That's the worst [winning streak] I’ve seen this year,” one scout told SI.com. “You could see the seams coming apart every night.”
They finally split wide open this week, first in a listless effort against the Capitals and then again on Thursday night versus the lottery-bound Panthers. Both games offered challenges that demanded to be answered. Instead, the Bruins came out sluggishly against the Caps and spent the rest of the night chasing a game that was too fast and too skilled for them. Then, after taking a lead against an inferior and inexperienced side in Sunrise, they allowed the Panthers to score three goals in a third period that was there for the taking.
Pick your excuse. The Bruins weren’t up to the task.
So now the B’s head to Tampa for a game that may mean everything or may mean nothing. The value of it has been wrenched from them, fittingly, by an Ottawa squad that had the skill and speed to meet the raised stakes of the stretch run.
It’s no coincidence that the Senators thrived after losing long-time core players like Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza. Those departures created opportunities for younger players like Kyle Turris and Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman—the very players who have been the key to Ottawa’s success. Whether the Sens end up with one of the final playoff spots at this point is immaterial. They’re headed in the right direction.
There's a lesson there for the Bruins. Maybe a loss on Saturday will help them figure it out.
• The Kings were the darlings of the #fancystats crowd this season, leading the league in possession (55.2%) and finishing second in shot differential (+307). Fat lot of good that did them. In the end, the only number that mattered was their miserable 3-15 mark in overtime and the shootout.
That ’s not just bad. It’s historically bad. Barring extra time in their finale on Saturday, the 2014-15 Kings will go into the books with a .167 OT/SO winning percentage—the worst since the NHL adapted the shootout in the 2005-06 season.
The reason? The big guns consistently came up small. Anze Kopitar went one for nine in the skills competition. Jeff Carter, just two for nine. As a team, the Kings scored five times on 35 chances, shooting a league-low 14%. Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones combined to allow 12 goals on 33 shots, a .636 save percentage that ranked 23rd.
Last season, the Kings shot 30.8% and put up a .759 save percentage in the shootout and went 8-6 in the process. There’s your margin of success right there.
• Here's what it comes down to this weekend in the battle for the final two spots in the Eastern Conference:
The Penguins have two games remaining (Islanders, Sabres). They’re in with any combination of two points.
The Senators have one left, closing out their regular schedule tomorrow afternoon in Philadelphia. They’re in with a least one point.
The Bruins need either the Sens to lose in regulation or the Penguins to get no more than one point combined at home against the Isles on Friday and at Buffalo on Saturday, and then Boston must beat Tampa Bay.
• If I’m Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, I’m worried a lot less about an offense that’s created just three goals in the past three games than I am about my third defensive unit. The Hawks have the talent on hand to work their way out of their scoring drought but it’s going to be a challenge to protect the Michal Rozsival-David Rundblad pairing, especially as they open the playoffs on the road. Their bad decisions and turnovers could be fatal in a short series.
• Alain Vigneault hasn’t won the Stanley Cup (yet), but he’s building a nice résumé for the Hall of Fame. With his Rangers clinching the Presidents’ Trophy this week, Vigneault’s teams now have won the award in three of the past five years—his Canucks were the league’s top team in 2010-11 and 2011-12. And while he came up short in last season’s Cup finals, he did guide the improved Rangers that far. That would be an impressive run with one team. That he’s taken two to the finals during the past four years is remarkable.
• A telling statement: Asked for the secret to beating Hart Trophy-favorite Carey Price, one Eastern Conference exec pleaded the Fifth. “If we knew something—and I’m not saying we do—we wouldn’t want to say because we wouldn’t want him to know what we know. Or maybe we just don’t know anything.”
What to watch this weekend
It’s pretty simple for the Penguins: Win and they’re in. Pittsburgh needs two points in its final two games to secure one of the two playoff spots still up for grabs in the East, and if the Pens can grab them tonight, that takes the pressure off for Saturday’s finale in Buffalo.
But nothing comes easy for this team, at least not lately. It has dropped four straight, including a 4–3 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday that saw it blow an early 3–0 lead. That was the fourth time in the past two weeks alone that the Pens have held a multiple-goal lead and failed to win.
They’ve lost three of their four meetings with the Isles already this season, but they’re catching a New York team that is dealing with struggles of its own. The Isles are locked in a 3-7-2 spiral that was punctuated by a gutting 5–4 loss to Philadelphia on Tuesday that ended when Jaroslav Halak bumbled a long wrist shot by Brayden Schenn with 2.1 seconds to go.
The Isles clinched on Thursday night with Boston’s loss, but they need to find some firm ground before the playoffs start. This could be their chance.
Rest of the schedule:Sabres at Blue Jackets (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, BELL TV, FS-O). The sad sack Sabres currently hold a two-point edge on the lowly Coyotes in the McDavid-Eichel derby and have a game in hand. Somehow win this one and beat the Penguins on Saturday and Buffalo will no longer be guaranteed one of the top two picks in this June’s draft if the Yotes lose to Ducks in their season finale, which they likely will.
Penguins at Sabres (7 p.m. ET; ROOT, MSG-B)
Bruins at Lighting (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN1, NESN)
With all 30 teams in action on the regular season’s final day, there’ll be one, and possibly two, playoff spots up for grabs and some first round matchups to be determined.
If they haven’t yet clinched, the Pens can get it done with a win over the miserable Sabres.
The Senators need just a single point against the Flyers, who seem to be enjoying playing a potential spoiler’s role.
Meanwhile, the Bruins will be waiting to find out if their game is for all or nothing. They need the Sens and Pens to come up short and then come up with their own big win in Tampa.
Should be a good day for watching hockey.
The numbers game
• MVP favorite Carey Price has broken the Canadiens’ single season record of 42 wins shared by Jacques Plante(1955-56 and 1961-62) and Ken Dryden(1975-76). Price is also the first goalie since Chicago’s Ed Belfour in 1990-91 to lead the league in goals-against average (1.95), save percentage (.934) and shutouts (tied with 9) this season.
• The Flames and Canucks will meet in the postseason for the seventh time, with Calgary holding a 4-2 lead in their all-time series. Their previous meeting was in the 2004 Western Conference Quarterfinals when Martin Gelinas scored at 1:25 of overtime in Game 7 to give the Flames a four-games-to-three victory en route to the Stanley Cup finals. This season, Calgary had two 30-goals scorers (Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan) for the first time since 2008-09 (Mike Cammalleri, Jarome Iginla) when the Flames last appeared in the playoffs.
• The Red Wings’ 24 consecutive playoff appearances remains the longest such active streak in North American pro sports.
• The Blue Jackets want to find out if training and treatment are to blame for this season's injury woes.
• Jimmy Fallon has some fun with player head shots in this episode of Hockey Superlatives. Poor, poor Matt Cullen.
• Today’s adventure in #fancystats: a look at which players coaches rely on more often when they have a lead.
• Monday should be funday in Toronto.
• Great. Now I’ve lost my faith in video games.