Bruins, Senators Set for Tight Race Right Down to the Wire in Quest for Northeast Division Title


Bruins, Senators Set for Tight Race Right Down to the Wire in Quest for Northeast Division TitleWILMINGTON, Mass. – When the Bruins entered February, their sights were still set on claiming the top spot in the Eastern Conference in the final 10 weeks of the season.

They were just a single point behind the Rangers for the conference lead on Feb. 1. The Northeast Division title wasn't even a concern. The Bruins had just beaten Ottawa the night before, extending their lead to six points on the Senators. More importantly, they had five games in hand on Ottawa.

Fast forward seven weeks, and that division title and No. 2 seed in the East now look very much in doubt. The Senators (36-25-10, 82 points) are just a point behind the Bruins and can overtake Boston Friday night with a win over last-place Montreal. The Bruins (40-27-3, 83 points) have the advantage in tiebreakers with two more non-shootout wins and a 4-1-0 record in head-to-head matchups. Boston also still has a game in hand, and will have two after Ottawa plays Friday, but those games in hand haven't meant much with Boston just 8-13-1 since the start of February.

That includes a season-high four-game losing streak that they'll take into Saturday's St. Patrick's Day matinee against Philadelphia. The Bruins know full well that could take the ice for that game as the seventh seed in the East if Ottawa beats the Canadiens on Friday.

"I think if you ask anyone and they don't know what the standings are, they're lying to you," Bruins center Chris Kelly said after the club's practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday afternoon. "Obviously we know where we stand and where other teams stand. All we can do is focus on ourselves and the games we have coming up."

Kelly, who spent his entire pro career in the Ottawa system before coming to Boston before last year's trade deadline, thinks the pressure being applied by the Senators could be a good thing for the slumping Bruins.

"Maybe it's something that we need," Kelly said. "A little bit of fire behind us and a team pushing us."

But can the Bruins hold off that push? A look at the remaining schedules for the two teams would appear to give Ottawa the advantage.

The Senators have six of their final 11 games at home, and all five of their road games are against Eastern Conference teams. They do make one trip out to Winnipeg, but otherwise don't leave the Eastern time zone.

The Bruins, by comparison, have their remaining 12 games split evenly with six at the Garden and six on the road. But their six away games include a trip out west to face all three California-based clubs. The Bruins have two days off before leaving for San Jose, but that is the only time the rest of the season that the Bruins have more than one day between games, while also playing a pair of back-to-back sets.

Ottawa has three sets of back-to-backs, but the Senators will get plenty of time to rest. They have two days off between games twice and a four-day layoff at the end of the month.

The Senators also might have the advantage in terms of opposition. Just five of their remaining 11 games are against teams currently in playoff position. Of the six non-playoff teams, only Winnipeg is still legitimately alive, with Ottawa also facing Montreal twice, Toronto, Carolina and the Islanders, the bottom four teams in the East.

Boston, meanwhile, has five games against current playoff teams and seven against teams on the outside looking in at the moment. But of those seven, San Jose, Los Angeles and Buffalo are very much alive, while even Anaheim and Tampa Bay are clinging to slim hopes and are unlikely to roll over.

The Bruins and Senators do have one final head-to-head clash, with the second to last game of the season for both teams coming in Ottawa on April 5. Boston has won four of the first five meetings between the division rivals, and they may need a fifth win in the final showdown to secure a Northeast crown once thought to be a foregone conclusion.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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