When it comes to the Ottawa Senators, the Boston Bruins should heed the classic warning: Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.
The Bruins lost a golden chance Thursday to build their lead on the field for the Eastern Conference’s second wild card spot when they dropped a shootout decision to the Calgary Flames. The Bruins picked up the loser’s point, which is a slight silver lining in yet another shootout failure.
The Bruins need all the points they can get right now. They’re clinging to that final playoff spot, holding just a two-point lead over the Florida Panthers and a four-point advantage over the Philadelphia Flyers.
The team the B’s really need to worry about, however, might be the Senators.
Ottawa is picking the right time of the season to play its best hockey. A disappointing start to the season was punctuated by the firing of head coach Paul MacLean, but that looks to be the right decision with the Senators now in contention. They’ve won seven of 10 — with points in nine of those games — and they’re now within five points of Boston.
That difference can be erased very quickly, too, as the schedule indicates. The Sens not only have a game in hand on the Bruins, the two teams also meet twice before season’s end. Regulation wins in those games could give the Sens a four-point swing, which is enormous this time of the season. Ottawa has wins in two of three matchups with Boston this season, although they did need the skills competition that must not be named for both wins.
The rest of the slate also favors Ottawa compared to the other teams chasing the Bruins. The Flyers have 17 games to play. Nine of those are on the road, which is less than ideal for a team with a 9-17-6 road record. Florida, meanwhile, also has 17 games left, nine of those games are against teams currently in the playoff field.
Perhaps the most important factor in all of this, is obvious: The Senators are playing the best of all those teams.
Goalie Andrew Hammond — owner of the NHL’s best nickname, “Hamburgler” — has been a godsend for the Sens. The 27-year-old has been wonderful since being recalled from the AHL. He’s posted a 6-0-1 record with a .957 save percentage and has helped ease the pain of the absence No. 1 goalie Craig Anderson who’s been out since January with a hand injury.
Hammond’s playing well, and Anderson should return soon. The Senators are now a confident bunch, well aware of what they can do.
“I think right now, yeah, there’s hope,” defenseman Marc Methot recently said, according to the Ottawa Sun. “I think especially the fact that we’re kind of on that run right now. We’re playing great hockey. We’ve got some great goaltending happening for us. Even all the young guys are playing great, too. You never know. Anything can happen at this point.”
The Bruins are still very much in control of their destiny, but they’re going to have fight for their playoff lives in the season’s final six weeks. In all honesty, they should make the playoffs, and they’re probably their own toughest competition.
But if there’s a team that runs them down, don’t be surprised if it ends up being the Sens.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images