After all of that, after all of the unfortunate injuries and the maddening ineptitude, the Bruins sit on the cusp of the postseason. Three days remain in the NHL regular season. There are two games to go. And let us hope upon hope that the puck doesn’t stop here.
A seemingly fractured team as recently as three weeks ago, the Bruins claimed a 3-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres last night that moved them thisclose to the postseason. With one win in their two remaining games this weekend – or with one regulation loss by the New York Rangers, who play tonight – the B’s can most easily secure a playoff spot in what has been their most highly anticipated regular season in recent memory.
If and when the Bruins make the playoffs in the coming hours, give them their due. This was not easy. The Bruins may or may not advance past the first round of the playoffs this spring, but they have demonstrated more fight in the last three weeks than they did in the previous months.
"They're a desperate team,’’ Patrick Lalime, the Sabres’ backup goalie, told reporters of the Bruins following last night’s game. "They're battling for every inch."
Which, of course, is what they should have been doing all along.
Whether the Bruins can actually accomplish anything in the postseason (if they get there) remains to be seen, though it is now virtually impossible to expect too much from them. Maybe that is a good thing. The Bruins lost Marc Savard to a devastating concussion in the Matt Cooke affair, and they just lost defenseman Dennis Seidenberg for a minimum of eight weeks with a lacerated forearm tendon. Andrew Ferrence is hurt, too. The power play is anything but – the B’s went an Ortizian 0 for 5 again last night – and even a playoff series victory would land them on the doorstep of either Washington or Pittsburgh in the second round.
Still, as Bruins vice president Cam Neely stressed earlier this week, do not underestimate the importance of even one playoff series for this team, no matter how short it could be. After all, the Bruins are still a relatively young team comprised of inexperienced players who can benefit from the playoffs. Tuukka Rask never has played in a postseason game. David Krejci has played in fewer postseason during his career (18) than Sidney Crosby in each of the last playoffs (20, 24). These Bruins were not constructed with the idea of making one spirited run at the Stanley Cup so much as they were for an extended push for a championship.
Fine, so the Bruins have been a disappointment this year. So management dumped Phil Kessel and never replaced him. So everyone from Milan Lucic to Tim Thomas to Dennis Wideman has fizzled. So it will likely be at least 39 years, and not 38, before the B’s once again get the chance to hoist Lord Stanley’s sterling cup.
Understandably, Bruins fans are frustrated and angry, traumatized by a Jeremy Jacobs ownership era that has failed to produce a single championship. And yet, as the Bruins sit where they are today, there is enough reason to believe in them again, from their improved play of the last three weeks to the potential for offseason help as soon as Tuesday night.
Lest anyone forget, as the result of the Kessel deal, the Bruins own the first-and second-round selections of the Toronto Maple Leafs in this year’s NHL Draft. Earlier this week, the Leafs locked up the second-worst record in the league. The Bruins’ place in the draft will not be formally decided until Tuesday night – that’s when NHL officials are due to pluck the dreaded ping-pong balls – and the odds of getting No. 1 or No. 2 (translation: prized youngsters Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, both forwards) are in their favor. While the B’s could end up as low as No. 3, they have a 60.8 percent chance of being in the first two picks. In the last two lotteries, the balls have bounced according to odds.
As much as many Bruins dread the prospect of another fruitless summer, the future is a critical part of the equation here. Bruins officials made it so first by dumping Kessel, then by standing pat (at least offensively) at the trading deadline. Regardless, the Bruins are now playing perhaps as well as they have all year. Since the Pittsburgh debacle, the Bruins have 13 points in 10 games, a pace that would produce 107 points over the course of a full season. (Last year, they finished with 116.) They have a goal differential of plus-9. (They had been minus-6 for the year before that.) Nobody is suggesting that all of the Bruins’ problems are fixed, but they are now closer to being the captivating team of 2008-09 than the disappointing squad of 2009-10.
At the start of this season, in the wake of the Bruins’ finish last spring, team officials acknowledged that this club would be assessed largely by its performance in the postseason. Of course, the B’s also never imagined that they would be fighting to merely qualify. The trip through the regular season has been far more grueling and damaging that anyone might have guessed, leaving one to wonder whether they are still headed nowhere or whether they have a new lease on life.
And so now, as the B’s sit on the brink of the playoffs - perhaps as high as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference - we wonder about where they are and, just as importantly, where they are going.
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