WASHINGTON, DC – It’s well documented that the Bruins are running away and hiding with the division and the Eastern Conference. The B’s will most likely clinch their first Atlantic Division crown on Saturday afternoon against the Washington Capitals, and the conference seems it will only be a matter of time.
The spoils of success are well deserved for a hockey club that’s gone 21-2-4 since Jan. 19, and has blown everybody else out of the Atlantic Ocean in the East. For the Bruins, that means the remaining nine games are largely meaningless aside from a chance to capture their first President’s Trophy under Claude Julien.
In fact it’s only human nature for players, coaches and management to start looking for the fast forward button through the next few weeks, so they can get straight to the good stuff in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“Personally, I’d like the playoffs to start at the beginning of the season. I think it’s the most fun part of the season. It’s when games mean a lot, and it’s when you’re chasing the Stanley Cup,” said Gregory Campbell. “But having said that, we still have nine games to play in an 82-game schedule. It’s important for us to show professionalism, and come to work every day. That hard work is going to pay off in the playoffs.”
Campbell is right, of course, but sometimes that can be easier said than done for a team that’s built up a giant cushion in the standings, and isn’t exactly feeling urgency these days.
So that opens the door for manufactured motivation, but perhaps the Bruins have the next best thing to the playoffs starting this weekend. Pure coincidence has the Black and Gold playing potential first round playoff foes in each of the next four regular season games on the road. The Philadelphia Flyers might be streaking their way out of a potential first round showdown with Boston by virtue of six wins in their last eight games, and have jumped up to third place in the Metro Division with 85 points.
But the Capitals (Saturday’s opponent), the Detroit Red Wings (Wednesday’s opponent), and the Toronto Maple Leafs (Thursday’s opponent) are all tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets with 80 points, and only two wild card spots to be won between the four hockey clubs. The worst of the wild card teams appears destined with a date against the No. 1 seed Bruins in the first round.
So the Bruins will be getting a last look at Washington, Detroit and Toronto, although the rest of the teams have two games in hand against Toronto as the Leafs’ playoff chances dwindle. The Capitals and Braden Holtby have had Boston’s number for the last few years dating back to their first round series two years ago, the Red Wings stomped the Bruins the last time those two teams faced each other in December and everybody remembers the problems Boston experienced with the Leafs in last year’s first round.
“There are some good challenges. Philadelphia and Washington, the Caps are battling for a playoff spot and the Flyers have been playing really good hockey for about a month or so,” said Claude Julien. “They’ve really come around. This time of year you’re trying to find ways to motivate yourself, but there’s a lot to be motivated for.
“Washington could be [a first round opponent for the Bruins], but Philadelphia might be something different. There are a lot of scenarios that could happen. We’re not wasting too much time on that, and instead it’s about taking care of our own stuff right now.”
The Bruins have essentially taken care of all the stuff they can possibly control to this point, so it’s natural to look outward at some of the potential playoff foes.
Each potential playoff opponent will provide their own challenges, and give the Bruins that one last glimpse at the enemy before the real bullets start whizzing around in the playoffs.
“Those are possible matchups for us in the first round, or the second,” said Campbell. “Those teams are also playing well right now. It’s important we play teams that keep us on our toes, and it’s essentially been playoff time for those teams for a long time now.”
The Bruins aren’t expecting to come across any magic formula to defeat any of these teams in the playoffs, and might not give the game video a second glance after their late season contests are over.
But there’s no doubt final, lasting statements could be made in any of the upcoming week’s games with Washington, Detroit and Toronto. Each of them is ready to play the upstart underdog role against the Bruins in the playoff’s first round, and that’s something they should absolutely be wary of.