Smooth like Sutter: Penguins clinch spot, boot Bruins from playoffs

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line, one would expect Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby to take over against the Buffalo Sabres. Instead, it was Brandon Sutter.

His two goals powered a huge 2-0 win for Pittsburgh, who clinched a playoff spot while eliminating the Boston Bruins in the process. With this, all 16 postseason teams have been accounted for as the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs approach.

The Penguins let out a big sigh of relief when Sutter scored the 1-0 goal. His second tally might have been more impressive in a way, as he returned to the ice after taking a shot to the face to put in a big insurance tally.

It was tense at times for the Penguins, as the Sabres stuck with them even as Pittsburgh steadily out-shot them. One assumes that more than a few Pittsburgh fans had a “here we go again” feeling about a nice set of chances amounting to nothing, but Buffalo couldn’t put up much of an attack. Marc-Andre Fleury ended one of his better individual seasons with his 34th win.

To some extent, it felt like the Penguins carried an air of fatigue – only have five defensemen dressed is a succinct reminder of their issues – yet they’re likely glad to avoid a premature vacation. It’s easy to forget that the Penguins just continued quite the run of success because it was so close to falling through:

The Bruins would surely beg for the Penguins problems right now. Instead, they’ll miss the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season.

Around the Internet, people are really giving it to the Bruins for putting first-round playoff tickets on sale in late March. Ouch.

Update: The Bruins fell 3-2 via a shootout against the Lightning in a game that became increasingly irrelevant for both teams.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins at Lightning (plus tonight’s scenarios)

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The Boston Bruins can’t guarantee themselves a playoff berth with a win alone, but they can at least say that they did everything they could – Saturday specifically – if they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tampa Bay would probably be a tough draw even if the Bolts were in take-it-easy mode, but with the Atlantic Division crown within somewhat realistic reach, they’re likely to give Boston a big fight. You can watch the game on NBCSN and also stream it online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

To save hockey fans a click, here are tonight’s updated postseason scenarios via the NHL:

* The Penguins would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Sabres in any fashion OR if they get one point against the Sabres AND either the Senators lose to the Flyers in regulation or the Bruins fail to defeat the Lightning in regulation or overtime OR if the Bruins lose to the Lightning in any fashion.

* The Bruins would clinch a playoff berth if they defeat the Lightning in any fashion AND either the Senators or Penguins lose in regulation. If the Bruins defeat the Lightning in regulation or overtime, they would qualify with either a Senators regulation loss or Penguins loss in any fashion.

* The Canadiens would clinch the Atlantic Division title if they get at least one point against the Maple Leafs OR if the Lightning lose to the Bruins in any fashion.

* The Lightning would clinch the Atlantic Division title if they defeat the Bruins in any fashion AND the Canadiens lose to the Maple Leafs in regulation.

* The Red Wings would clinch the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic Division if they get at least one point against the Hurricanes.

* The Rangers, who are locked in as the top seed in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference, will face the No. 2 wild card in the First Round, either the Red Wings, Senators, Penguins or Bruins.

* The Islanders would clinch the No. 2 seed in the Metropolitan Division if they defeat the Blue Jackets in regulation or overtime OR if they defeat the Blue Jackets in a shootout.

That blurb above doesn’t include West considerations. In case you’re wondering, the St. Louis Blues grab the West’s top seed if the Anaheim Ducks don’t win in regulation. The top seed gets the Winnipeg Jets while the second division winner faces the Minnesota Wild.

OK, so here’s the deal for the Bruins and Penguins

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Now that’s Ottawa’s taken care of business in Philadelphia, there’s but one remaining playoff spot in the East for either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins to nab.

Glossing over the fact that this is pretty crazy, here’s the deal for the Pens and B’s, two teams that entered the season with Stanley Cup aspirations:

For Pittsburgh, a win this evening in Buffalo will clinch a spot. Sounds easy, right? Well, it might prove to be. But then again, nothing’s been easy for the Pens lately, and the Sabres do have three wins in their last six. The Pens could also get in with a loser point, but only if the Bruins can’t beat the Lightning in regulation or overtime. They could also get in with a regulation loss, but only if the Bruins lose in any fashion to the Lightning. 

So, for Boston, a victory tonight at Tampa Bay is an absolute necessity. If the B’s win in any fashion, including a shootout, they’d get in with a Penguins’ regulation loss to the Sabres. If they can they beat the Lightning in regulation or overtime, they’d get in if the Penguins lost in any fashion to the Sabres.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Bottom line: The only way the Bruins can make it is if the Sabres find a way to beat the Penguins.

Chiarelli unsure of his future with Bruins

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Remember two days ago when the Boston Bruins didn’t want to “rely on the last game” to make the playoffs?

Well, after consecutive losses to Washington and Florida, that’s what they’ll have to do. And even if they beat the Lightning tomorrow, it may not be enough. Either the Ottawa Senators or Pittsburgh Penguins would have to slip up too.

And so embattled GM Peter Chiarelli met with reporters today, sounding a lot like a guy who was preparing for the worst.

A sampling of tweets from the assembled media:

We’ll post video of Chiarelli’s availability if it becomes available. But it goes without saying that if the Bruins do indeed miss the playoffs, all eyes will be on CEO Charlie Jacobs to see what he does about it.

Related: Jacobs rips Bruins for ‘unacceptable’ season

Big, bad blunder: Bruins fall against Panthers

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The good news for the Boston Bruins is that their awful Thursday doesn’t knock them out of the playoffs altogether. The bad news is … just about everything else that happened tonight.

As you may already know, the Ottawa Senators held up their end of the bargain with a 3-0 win against the New York Rangers. That allowed Ottawa to bump Boston out of the East’s wild card ranks, but the Bruins could have made that a temporary thing. The B’s failed in that quest, however, falling to the 10th-ranked Florida Panthers 4-2.

(One can imagine that Roberto Luongo was quite happy to spite his pals from Boston, eh?)

The Panthers also did the New York Islanders a favor, as this Boston win punches their ticket to the playoffs.

The final stretch

Let’s look at what the wild card looks while ignoring the Detroit Red Wings’ tight contest against the Montreal Canadiens for now:

Wild card spot 1: Ottawa, 97 points, one game left, 36 regulation/OT wins
Wild card spot 2: Pittsburgh, 96 points, two games left, 38 ROW

Bubble: Boston, 95 points, one game left, 37 ROW

As you can probably see, the Bruins need some help after this more-or-less worst-case scenario night. The Penguins face the now-clinched Islanders on Friday and then the lowly Buffalo Sabres on Saturday while the Senators close out their season against the Philadelphia Flyers. Boston faces a Tampa Bay Lightning team that may still be gunning for the Atlantic Division crown, so they can’t expect a casual opponent.

Ultimately, if Ottawa gets a mere point against Philly, it’s over for Boston. The Penguins only need two points in whatever fashion they may get them in their last two games.

It all looks very bleak for the Bruins, who saw former teammate Jaromir Jagr score his 1,800th career point in painful fashion tonight.

(That’s cold.)

(Seriously, ouch.)

The most positive thing is that many people were once counting out the Senators like they’re counting out the Bruins right now.