The final week of the regular season is a wish made in heaven for the National Hockey League, as playoff spots are still within reach in both conferences. Currently in the Eastern Conference a mere three points separate the eighth spot and the fifth spot. In the Western Conference the race is just as tight, with three teams battling for the final playoff spot, also separated by three points. Struggling to make the cut in the West are the Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, and the Los Angeles Kings. The Bruins continue to be chased by the Ottawa Senators, the Sens tied Boston for the eighth and final spot with a come-from-behind overtime 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night. The advantage, the Bruins hold a game in hand, plus the tiebreaker of having more regulation plus overtime wins.
While this doesn’t give the B’s the chance to take their foot off the gas, it does present the realization once again, that their playoff destiny is in their own hands. If the Bruins are able to post victories in the their three remaining regular season games, it wouldn’t matter what Ottawa does in their final two games. Boston took the ice last night (Wednesday), as the Record went to press, to face the Washington Capitals who have clinched a playoff berth and are looking to lock up home ice in the first round. The brief road trip continues on to Florida tonight (Thursday 7:30pm), where the Bruins will face a tough game against the already eliminated Florida Panthers, tough because the Panthers have nothing to lose. Boston’s regular season finale (Saturday 7:30pm) will feature the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is still battling the Montreal Canadiens for second spot in the Eastern Conference standings.
Not to be overlooked is the fact that the Bruins continue to be in the running for the third playoff spot in their Atlantic Division, now just a single point (96-95) behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first wild card spot, plus Boston also has a game in hand. Also within reach in the conference standings are the Detroit Red Wings, presently in sixth spot leading the Bruins by two points, and also two points ahead in the Atlantic Division. So many scenario possibilities remain, causing this week’s games to be played in a playoff-like atmosphere.
Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask will continue to carry the heavy load, already having played in 67 regular season games to this point, and with so much at stake, getting him rest seems like a very unlikely possibility at this time. Dougie Hamilton remains sidelined with an upper-body injury, although he did not travel with the team to Washington, he remains a possibility for the two remaining road games this week. Despite missing practice on Monday after blocking a shot against Toronto, Captain Zdeno Chara was expected to be in the lineup for Boston’s final three regular season games.
FROZEN FOUR ICINGS: This week the TD Garden ice will be home to the Frozen Four’s semifinal game on Thursday night. It will also give Bruins fans the opportunity to view the talents of two NHL Draft prospects, Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk (3rd Round 2012), and North Dakota’s goaltender Zane McIntyre (6th Round 2010). The two will face of in the second semifinal game tonight (Thursday 8:30pm), as Boston University and North Dakota do battle. The first game of the semifinals will have Providence vs. Omaha (5:00pm). The teams that emerge victorious will face off in the Frozen Four Championship finals on Saturday (4/11 at 7:30). Fans also are invited to meet ESPN’s SportsCenter and college hockey play-by-play commentator John Buccigross, and lead hockey analyst Barry Melrose tomorrow night (Friday 6:30pm) at The Greatest Bar in Boston (262 Friend Street, Boston). Giveaways include Championship Game tickets, plus the opportunity for pictures and autographs with Buccigross and Melrose.