What a difference a year makes.
Honestly, let’s take that one step further. What a difference two months make.
This Boston Bruins team was left for dead back on February 4th when they lost at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs. In that high-octane tilt, the Bruins blew several leads and were eventually embarrassed in front of the TD Garden faithful. It was hard to foreshadow that the Leafs are now a team contending for the playoffs, but at the time it was a devastating loss.
Just a few days later, Claude Julien was relieved of his coaching duties. That ended a near 10-year run as the longest tenured coach in the National Hockey League during this era. There is no doubt that he will go down as the greatest coach in the history of the franchise, but the time was needed for a change in order to salvage what was left of a mighty bleak season.
Sure, the smear campaign was in full effect from the players, but that had to have been just frustration being vented in the heat of the moment. The defensive scheme that was in place under Julien was successful for a while, so much so that it brought the city of Boston a Stanley Cup in 2011. However, offense needs to shine in this new NHL.
In comes Bruce Cassidy and the resuscitation began. Brad Marchand is sniffing 40 goals for the first time in his career, Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin have turned into the hottest goalie tandem in the league, and the Bruins themselves have gone 17-7 in their last 24 games.
This is the classic case of an upper-management move injecting new life into the locker room.
With only one week left in the regular season, the B’s now have a chance to clinch a playoff spot. They have taking care of business and answered adversity up until this point. Now that the final three games are at home with a chance to secure a postseason berth, the pressure is on. Boston still is in a pretty good spot since the Atlantic Division is so convoluted.
Entering Tuesday night, the Bruins had 92 points and possession of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Only one point separates three teams for second place in the division, so it is possible for the Bruins to win out and shoot for that position.
It would only behoove the Black and Gold to achieve that goal.
Sure, securing a spot in the top eight would be sufficient enough considering the outright choking debacle that took place during the last two seasons. However, if they hold on to qualify as a wild card team, than they would play the Washington Capitals. Not only are the Bruins winless against the Caps this year, but they have had terrible success against that team in recent playoff matchups.
The goal should be to play out of the division. The Leafs and the Ottawa Senators would be the potential first-round matchups if the Bruins were to finish in the top three. The argument can be made that the Bruins are also winless against both the Leafs and the Senators this year, so why would that be a better matchup?
No doubt, that is a solid argument. But when you ask yourself who would you rather see the Bruins play in the first round of the playoffs, one of those teams would be the logical choice. Avoiding the Capitals for as long as possible would only give hope to any other team in the Eastern Conference.
From a personal perspective, fans would like to see a second-round matchup with the Julien-led Montreal Canadiens. That is all the more reason why we should pull for the Bruins to not take their foot off the gas while they are in the midst of a five-game winning streak.
Above all else, the expectation for this team is exercise the demons and qualify for the playoffs. It is about time that we see some hockey being played in this city past Easter. Nothing has been clinched yet for the Bruins; work still needs to be done.
The B’s host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night, followed by the Senators on Thursday and the Capitals to close out the regular season.