Thursday, April 9, 2015

Games 80-81: Final Week Of The Regular Season

The race for the final two playoff spots could not be more convoluted than it is at this point in time. Over the course of the past week, the Eastern Conference has broken down to officially only nine teams competing for eight spots. 

Welcome to the push for postseason positioning. 

The Boston Bruins got launched into seventh place (third in the Atlantic Division) on Sunday night without even playing a game; the Detroit Red Wings dropped two points to the Washington Capitals. After the Ottawa Senators knocked off the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, the B's were right back to where they entered the week (eighth place). 

Speaking of the Caps, that was the team that the B's faced off against on Wednesday night to begin this final three-game road trip to end the year. This was also the first game of their 16th back-to-back set of the season. 

Not only were the B's looking for their first win of the season against Washington, but also their first goal; they were shut out in the previous two meetings. This was going to be a herculean task for Boston on this night, but there was no more room for letting up. The Black and Gold could easily fall out of the playoff picture if they do not take care of business this week.

Dougie Hamilton skated before practice all week since suffering an "upper-body" injury on March 21. However, he did not make the trip. Joe Morrow was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis. 

With shuffled lines and tweaked defensive pairs, the game started off sloppy for the Bruins. There were turnovers galore and multiple defensive breakdowns in front of Tuukka Rask. The Caps blasted in two quick goals as a result of the B's play. The second period was a little bit more like the B's as they broke down the Caps defense with some great scoring chances. However, Braden Holtby continued to be a B's killer. 

After the Caps recorded another goal in the second period, that was more than enough for them to hold on. It was easily forgettable that Washington was playing for playoff positioning, so the intensity that was brought was justified. Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly, and Milan Lucic all had golden opportunities to put the puck in the goal, but nothing to it. The puck possession and face-offs won were in the B's favor (39-24), but that does not translate to goals or points. The Capitals took this game by a final score of 3-0. Holtby became the first goaltender to shut out the Bruins for the entire season, stopping all 27 shots he faced on this night. 

Boston's five-game winning streak was snapped with this loss and it also signified a season sweep by the Capitals. 

The Bruins were also in action on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, a team that was recently eliminated from playoff contention. Their mission? Spoiler. On a side note, Boston and Ottawa entered Thursday tied with 95 points each and two games remaining on the schedule. 

Boston came out on fire to begin the game. The Panthers did not get a quality scoring chance on Rask until after the midway point of the opening 20 minutes. Even though the first period was scoreless, the B's clearly came out with a purpose. Both sides got a chance on the power play and both sides were in rare form with the man advantage.

The B's and Panthers entered the second period playing four-on-four hockey due to matching minors at the end of the previous period. At that point, Florida was the team in control...which was absolutely baffling. The physical aspect of the game was definitely there, so much so that we witnessed a lengthy fight between Adam McQuaid and Alex Petrovic. We finally did manage to get some scoring in this game. Bergeron and Aleksander Barkov--two fine young top-line centers--each recorded a power-play goal for their respective teams, setting up a wild third period. 

Even though the B's showed signs of life, the Panthers just wanted the two points more. They scored three goals in the final 20 minutes while Roberto Luongo had a solid night in net for Florida. In stunning fashion, the Bruins fell by a final score of 4-2 to the Panthers. 

Since the Senators knocked off the New York Rangers earlier in the night, they leapfrogged the B's right into the playoff picture. There is so much on the line with one game left on the schedule. 

The Bruins will play their regular-season finale on Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Gold Star (combined): Adam McQuaid...He actually put together a decent start to the road trip. He took meaningful shots as well as shutting down the best players on the opposition. Above all else, he was consistent. 

Black Star (combined): David Krejci...He was down on the fourth line for Thursday after being invisible on Wednesday. The knee injury has clearly taken its toll on the veteran center and messed with his confidence out on the ice.

Game Eighty Box Score

Game Eighty-One Box Score

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