The Boston Bruins have reached the home stretch. The dog days of January, the Olympic break in February and a jam-packed March schedule have all come and gone. The B’s have just five games left before they finally begin the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Bruins can’t gain or lose a lot during that five-game stretch, but some things are worth watching as the regular season comes to a close. Some are pretty important, too, if the Bruins want to make another deep playoff run.
Here are five burning questions to be answered over the final five games of the regular season.
Who gets some rest?
Bruins veterans have to be rested at some point. Once the B’s wrap up the top seed in the Eastern Conference, they can start to do that. They still could make a push for the Presidents’ Trophy, with three of five games coming against non-playoff teams. Resting players, especially on the back end, could give the Bruins a better look at players fighting for roster spots heading into the playoffs.
Speaking of …
How does the blue-line rotation shake out?
The Bruins are all but set when it comes to their lineup, except for, presumably, one defenseman spot. We know Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton are locks. We presume Torey Krug and Kevan Miller are, too. That leaves one spot open for Matt Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros to fight over.
Neither D-man really has taken control in their most recent chances. Meszaros looked slow Wednesday in Detroit, and Bartkowski made some questionable decisions with the puck Thursday in Toronto. They have just five games to make a good impression and try to win that job.
Don’t forget Adam McQuaid, either. He’s battling a nagging leg injury, and it certainly doesn’t seem like he’ll be ready for the playoffs. If McQuaid is able to return at some point, though, he would provide a much-needed boost.
What happens with Reilly Smith?
The Bruins’ young winger is in some kind of slump. He has only one goal in his last 24 games and was nowhere to be seen Thursday in Toronto. The Bruins attempted 80 shots in the loss to the Maple Leafs, with exactly zero of those coming from Smith.
So what do the Bruins do with Smith? We might have gotten an answer Thursday. Coach Claude Julien moved Smith down to the third line and bumped Loui Eriksson back up to Patrice Bergeron’s line. It’ll be interesting to see if Julien stays with that, especially once Carl Soderberg returns after the birth of his child. Soderberg and Eriksson, along with Chris Kelly, have been real good as a line, and Julien might not want to tinker with that combination.
Regardless, the Bruins will need more out of Smith once the playoffs come. They have to hope he can find his game in the final week and enter the postseason with some confidence.
Who will the Bruins end up seeing in the first round?
Barring some spectacular collapse, paired with a Pittsburgh Penguins surge, the Bruins will be the top-seeded team in the Eastern Conference. That means they’ll play the East’s second wild card, or the No. 8 seed as we called it back in the day.
As of Friday afternoon, that team would be the Columbus Blue Jackets. That could change, though. The Jackets sit only one point behind the Detroit Red Wings, and both teams have six games to play. The Toronto Maple Leafs are only one point behind the Jackets, although the Leafs have played two more games than both Detroit and Columbus.
What does it all mean for the Bruins? Well, they should defeat anyone they face in the first round. However, they’re probably hoping that they draw anyone but Detroit, since the Red Wings have given the Bruins problems all season.
Will anyone add to their award totals?
Everyone knows the Bruins really only care about one trophy, and that’s the one Gary Bettman hands out in an arena in mid-June. However, some Bruins players could end up adding some hardware come season’s end.
Tuukka Rask unquestionably should be a Vezina Trophy candidate, perhaps even the favorite. The same could be said for Patrice Bergeron and the Selke Trophy. Zdeno Chara might end up being a Norris Trophy finalist, and Julien has a case to at least be a Jack Adams Award finalist. All of the players could stand to gain something in the final five games of the season, although their cases for awards already have been made.