Point: Why Boston will make the playoffs

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Boston Bruins vs. New York Rangers

12:30 p.m. EST – Sunday, March 21, 2010
Live on NBC
The most important thing to remember here is: the Eastern Conference isn’t very good, particularly after you pass the handful of elites at the top. Just look at it this way; the 11th and 12th ranked West teams would be tied with Boston for a playoff spot right now. So, in other words, gaining a spot doesn’t require a team to achieve some lofty status.
Let me run down a few reasons why the Bruins will make the playoffs.
1. They have the lead
That might seem overly simplistic, but with only 11-12 games left for each team, a 3 point lead might be just enough of a cushion for the mediocre Bruins to hold off the mediocre Rangers and Thrashers. Especially when considering the other factors.

2. They have a better schedule
For one thing, Boston can really seal this up in the next few days: they play the Rangers on Sunday and then in Atlanta on Tuesday. But looking deeper, the Bruins simply have an easier finish than their two competitors.
You might as well cross Atlanta off the list right after you glance at this brutal five-game stretch to end their season: @Washington, @Pittsburgh, home against New Jersey, @Washington and home against Pittsburgh. Good luck with that, Atlanta.
The Rangers have it a bit easier opponents-wise, but they play eight of their last 11 games on the road. This includes a six game road trip. The Bruins have it much easier: they play seven out of their remaining 12 games at home and see no more than two games in a row on the road.
3. They are resilient
With all the harsh criticism this team has faced, few have given them much credit for fighting through bumps in the road. They might not earn many style points with the way they play right now, but they’ve been hanging tough all season long. Personally, I think they have what it takes to hold off Atlanta and New York.
So, that’s why the Bruins will make it to the playoffs. Stay tuned for takes on why Atlanta and New York will make it instead.

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    Stepan: ‘I’ve stunk since the playoffs started’

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    Derek Stepan knows he’s not playing very well, and he knows he’ll have to be better if the New York Rangers are going to make it past the Ottawa Senators.

    With just one goal (an empty-netter) and one assist in seven playoff games, Stepan’s offensive production has fallen off a cliff after a respectable 55-point regular season, which included 38 assists.

    “I’ve stunk since the playoffs started,” Stepan said, per NHL.com’s Dan Rosen. “I’ve been not very good with the puck.”

    An all-situations center, Stepan is more than just an offensive type. But he’s produced in previous playoff runs, and the Rangers need him to produce now — especially against a tight-checking Sens team that boasts a 2.00 goals-against average in these playoffs.

    Stepan has 45 points (18G, 27A) in 92 career playoff games.

    To be fair, he’s not the only Ranger who needs to get going offensively. One of the Blueshirts’ big strengths during the regular season was their balanced scoring, with all four lines contributing — and that’s not happening right now.

    No Bieksa for Anaheim tonight, but Vatanen could return

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    The Ducks will be without their most veteran skater on Friday as they look to even up their series with Edmonton.

    Kevin Bieksa, who exited Game 1 with a lower-body injury following a collision with fellow d-man Shea Theodore, has been ruled out for tonight’s Game 2. It marks the first tilt the 35-year-old will miss this postseason.

    Bieksa was enjoying a pretty good playoff prior to getting hurt. He racked up four assists in five games, while averaging just under 17 minutes per night. Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle is holding out hope Bieksa could return later in the series.

    While this is a loss for the Ducks, it goes a long way in illustrating how much defensive depth they have.

    While Carlyle wouldn’t confirm, all signs point to Sami Vatanen drawing in for Bieksa. Vatanen has been out since Game 1 of the Calgary series with an upper-body injury, but has resumed practicing and sounds like he’s ready to go.

    “It’s always nice when a player is closer to coming back and you can potentially put them back in the lineup,” Carlyle said of Vatanen.

    Anaheim dressed a blueline of Bieksa, Theodore, Cam Fowler, Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour in Wednesday’s 5-3 defeat. If Vatanen can’t draw in for Bieksa, the club still has Korbinian Holzer in reserve.

     

     

    Ducks say they’ve allowed Draisaitl too much freedom, too much fun

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    Given the nicknames bestowed on Leon Drasaitl recently — the German Gretzky, Certified Duck Killer — it’s safe to assume the big Oilers forward is having a pretty good time.

    That’s something Anaheim wants to put to an end, starting tonight.

    “He’s a power forward and we’re allowing him too much freedom. He’s having too much fun,” Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle told the Journal, after Drasaitl went off for four points in Wednesday’s series-opening win.  “I don’t know how I can put it any simpler.”

    The 21-year-old has made a habit of tormenting Anaheim this season. He has goals in five of seven career games at the Honda Center and, in his last 11 tilts versus the Ducks, has racked up an whopping 17 points.

    Coming into this second round series, most of the focus was on how Carlyle and company would shut down Connor McDavid.

    But now it appears they have another matchup issue on their hands.

    Carlyle’s most logical choice is to put out the Ryan Kesler line against McDavid, given Kesler’s stout defensive play and ability to shut down opposing centers. But in terms of straight matching, that puts plenty of responsibility on Kesler’s wingers — especially Andrew Cogliano — to deal with Draisaitl. He has good size (6-foot-1, 216 pounds) and has been bolstered by McDavid’s playmaking ability.

    As such, there’s a fascinating game-within-a-game to watch this evening. Carlyle has the benefit of last change. The forward matchups will be worth monitoring, but so will the defense — veteran blueliner Kevin Bieksa is doubtful after exiting Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but Sami Vatanen could return after sitting out since Game 1 of the Calgary series.

     

     

    Canucks could really use Patrick or Hischier

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    The Vancouver Canucks are hoping for better luck in tomorrow’s draft lottery. If they receive it, they may get a player who can step right into their lineup, and stay there for years to come.

    The top two picks in the 2017 draft are expected to be centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier.

    It remains to be seen who will go first overall. Patrick was the consensus pick for a while, but Hischier started to gain ground with an impressive showing for Switzerland at the World Juniors.

    “I think the top two players in this draft have the potential to maybe step in and play next year and be productive players at the NHL level,” said Canucks GM Jim Benning. “But I think the next three players, whether you’re looking at a play-making center, or potentially a power-play defenseman, there’s good choices there too.”

    Gabe Vilardi, Casey Mittelstadt, and Cody Glass are centers the Canucks could select if they fall out of the top two. Cale Makar, Miro Heiskanen, and Timothy Liljegren are options on defense.

    But getting Patrick or Hischier would be a huge win for a team that will soon have to replace Henrik Sedin, who turns 37 in September.

    Benning says Patrick offers a combination of size (6-3, 198), skill and hockey sense, with “no real weakness in his game.”

    As for Hischier, it’s his speed that really stands out.

    “He’s built for today’s game,” said Benning. “His speed going through the neutral zone is fun to watch.”

    The Canucks have the second-best odds to win the draft lottery. The furthest they can fall is to fifth.

    Last year, Vancouver fell two spots from third to fifth, with Winnipeg and Columbus moving up. The Canucks drafted Finnish defenseman Olli Juolevi with their selection.

    Draft lottery odds

    Colorado Avalanche 18.0%
    Vancouver Canucks 12.1%
    Vegas Golden Knights* 10.3%
    Arizona Coyotes 10.3%
    New Jersey Devils 8.5%
    Buffalo Sabres 7.6%
    Detroit Red Wings 6.7%
    Dallas Stars 5.8%
    Florida Panthers 5.4%
    Los Angeles Kings 4.5%
    Carolina Hurricanes 3.2%
    Winnipeg Jets 2.7%
    Philadelphia Flyers 2.2%
    Tampa Bay Lightning 1.8%