Something funny happened on the way to the Boston Bruins’ return to the postseason after missing out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
Despite dropping a 4-1 decision at home to Tampa Bay on Feb. 28, the Bruins had a comfortable 34-23-6 record and breathing room in the Atlantic Division standings heading into the stretch run of their season.
But as the month of March comes to a close, the situation in Boston is nearly 180 degrees from the one at the begging of the month. Entering play Wednesday, the Bruins have a 40-29-8 record, and while they are still in the playoff picture their position coming into their final six games has become much more precarious.
They sit five points back of the second place Lightning in the division, while they’re just one point above Detroit for fourth place and being on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
In other words, as the regular season comes down to it’s final days they’re very much a bubble team. The margin for error has become very slim for the Bruins, a losing streak even as few as three games could deny them a berth in the playoffs.
The Bruins find themselves in this spot after going 6-5-2 through their first 13 games this month. Granted, that’s not terrible, but they’re in a tough Atlantic division with a Tampa Bay team that has matched them point-for-point in the standings and a Detroit team that is fighting to keep their long playoff appearance streak alive. It just hasn’t been enough to gain any type of traction in the standings.
And what’s probably hurt the Bruins more than anything else is the fact they suffered through a five-game losing streak (0-5-0) – their longest of the year – from March 15 to March 24, dropping games through a brutal stretch in California to the likes of the Sharks, Ducks and Kings, and division-rival Florida.
That five-game losing streak also displayed some bad trends in their game at one of the worst times possible. They averaged just 1.2 goals per game on the skid, while allowing four or more goals in three of the five contests.
The lower scoring is being fueled by a power outage among their top line guys. Patrice Bergeron has 63 points (29-34—63) in 74 games, but only has just a goal and an assist in his past seven contests. And it’s not much different for David Krejci, who has two assists in his last five games, and Brad Marchand, who has tallied just one assist in his last eight contests.
Special teams has also struggled through the month of March. Boston has converted on just six of their 34 power play attempts this month through Monday’s action for a 17.6 percent success rate and went completely scoreless on the man advantage during their five game skid (0-for-13). The penalty kill has fared a bit better as they’ve gone 34-of-40 for an 85 percent success rate, but they’ve spent 70:06 shorthanded this month, which is the 11th most of any NHL team.
The Bruins entered play on Wednesday with five games remaining against five different opponents. Of those five games, two of them are against teams that find themselves in the playoffs entering Tuesday.
Arguably, the most crucial of these games will be on Apr. 7 when Detroit visits the TD Garden. Both teams are expected to still be neck and neck in the standings and it’s possible that this game could decide whether the Red Wings or Bruins snag that elusive postseason spot.
The Bruins are also going to enter this final six-game stretch and try to make the playoffs without the services of forward Ryan Spooner and defenseman John-Michael Liles. Neither player made the trip to New Jersey, where Boston’s final three-game road trip starts, but both players are considered to be day-to-day.
After years of the Bruins making the playoffs comfortably with some of the best records in the East, being a bubble team is a bit of an uncharted territory for them, but if Boston can find their offense and avoid any type of losing streak down the stretch it should be enough to clinch another postseason berth.