The Boston Bruins, who appeared to be well-positioned to make the Stanley Cup playoffs just a few weeks ago, are now in a real fight for their postseason lives against a Detroit Red Wings team trying to keep its 24-season playoff appearance streak intact.
Entering Wednesday’s games, the Bruins have a one-point lead over the Red Wings for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Securing a playoff spot from the division is the best bet for both teams because the Islanders are running away with the first wild-card spot, and the Flyers are just one point behind the B’s and Red Wings with two games in hand on each.
BOS 77 GP, 88 pts
DET 77 GP, 87 pts
PHI 75 GP, 87 pts
The Bruins need to score more goals, particularly at 5-on-5, to make the playoffs. It’s that simple. Boston’s 5.1 shooting percentage during 5-on-5 play in March is the second-worst in the league. Conversely, the B’s have the sixth-best 5-on-5 save percentage in March, led by Tuukka Rask’s .936 mark.
The Bruins need their skilled forwards, most notably Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson and Matt Beleskey, to step up at this all-important time of the campaign.
Here are my fresh NHL power rankings. All records are current entering Wednesday.
1. Washington Capitals (54-16-5, Last week: 1): The Capitals have secured home ice throughout the playoffs as Presidents’ Trophy winners. Their next challenge before Round 1 is getting everyone as healthy as possible.
2. Los Angeles Kings (45-26-5, Last week: 2): The Kings remain in a Pacific Division battle with the Ducks, where L.A. has a one-point edge, but Anaheim has a game in hand.
3. Dallas Stars (46-22-9, Last week: 3): The Stars are playing well as Round 1 approaches. They have won five of their last six games, including victories over playoff teams such as the Lightning, Islanders, Blackhawks, Sharks and Predators.
4. St. Louis Blues (46-22-9, Last week: 4): One of the keys to St. Louis’ 8-2-0 run over its last 10 games is the play of goaltender Brian Elliott. The veteran has won 11 of his last 13 starts with two or fewer goals allowed in 10 of them.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins (43-25-8, Last week: 5): Penguins defenseman Kris Letang played 35:15 with eight shots on goal in Tuesday’s shootout win over the Sabres. He has 43 points in his last 40 games. Very few, if any defenseman have played better than him during that stretch.
6. Anaheim Ducks (42-23-10, Last week: 6): The Ducks used the Jakob Silfverberg-Ryan Kesler-Andrew Cogliano shutdown line to keep Oilers star rookie Connor McDavid scoreless with just two shots in a win on Monday night. Expect this line to receive the toughest matchups in the playoffs, too.
7. Chicago Blackhawks (44-26-7, Last week: 7): Time to panic in Chicago? Head coach Joel Quenneville took the time to stay on the bench and stare down his players at the end of a period in a recent game, and now No. 1 defenseman Duncan Keith is suspended indefinitely for slashing Wild center Charlie Coyle’s face on Tuesday night.
8. New York Rangers (43-24-9, Last week: 8): The Rangers have taken points from eight of their last 10 games, which has helped them hold onto a slim one-point edge over the Penguins for second place in the Metropolitan Division.
9. San Jose Sharks (43-28-6, Last week: 13): The Sharks clinched a playoff spot with an impressive win over the Kings on Monday night. Joe Thornton continues to put up MVP-caliber numbers, too.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning (44-27-5, Last week: 9): The Lightning sit in first place in the Atlantic Division by virtue of the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker. They won’t have to worry about losing that tiebreaker unless the Panthers win their remaining six games and do so in regulation or OT. That’s unlikely to happen.
11. Nashville Predators (39-25-13, Last week: 10): Nashville needs one more win to clinch a playoff spot, but it’s possible the Preds could finish in either wild card spot because the Wild are just four points behind them with each team having four games left.
12. Florida Panthers (42-25-9, Last week: 12): Florida closes the regular season with its final six games against non-playoff teams. The Panthers have a great shot to win their second division title in team history.
13. New York Islanders (41-25-9, Last week: 14): The Islanders have a four-point lead for the first wild-card spot in the East, but their remaining schedule is brutal. It includes games against the Penguins, Lightning, Capitals, Rangers and a showdown with the Flyers on the final day.
14. Philadelphia Flyers (37-25-13, Last week: 15): The Flyers secured a much-needed second point with an overtime win over a bad Jets team on Monday night. Next up for Philly is a Wednesday Night Rivalry clash with the first-place Capitals
15. Boston Bruins (40-29-8, Last week: 11): The Bruins need their bottom-six forwards to provide some much-needed scoring depth over the final week-and-a-half of the regular season. Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes have a combined one point in their last five games.
16. Detroit Red Wings (38-28-11, Last week: 16): The Red Wings still have a decent chance to make the playoffs, but their only shot might be from the Atlantic Division. The April 7 meeting between the Bruins and Red Wings in Boston might be a playoff-spot decider.
17. Minnesota Wild (38-28-11, Last week: 17): The Wild have won six in a row to put themselves in a tremendous position to secure a wild card spot.
18. Colorado Avalanche (39-34-4, Last week: 18): Colorado is five points behind Minnesota with just four games remaining. The Avs must go undefeated to have a realistic chance to make the playoffs.
19. New Jersey Devils (37-32-8, Last week: 21): Backup goalie Keith Kinkaid made a career-high 39 saves to beat the Bruins on Tuesday night. If New Jersey could score with any kind of consistency — the Devils rank 30th in goals scored per game — it would be in the playoff race right now.
20. Carolina Hurricanes (33-28-16, Last week: 19): The Hurricanes have won just three of their last 10 games, which isn’t a bad thing considering it improves their chances of securing a better lottery pick in June’s draft.
21. Arizona Coyotes (34-35-7, Last week: 24): The Coyotes have a league-best .965 save percentage at 5-on-5 in March, which is the main reason why they’ve won six of their last 10 games and still not mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.
22. Ottawa Senators (34-33-9, Last week: 20): The Dion Phaneuf trade hasn’t paid any dividends for Ottawa, and his contract still has many years left on it.
23. Montreal Canadiens (35-36-6, Last week: 22): Reigning MVP Carey Price will travel with the Canadiens on their two-game road trip to Florida. That’s some pretty encouraging news.
24. Buffalo Sabres (31-35-11, Last week: 23): Sabres center Jack Eichel now ranks second in points (50) and goals (23) among rookies.
25. Calgary Flames (31-36-6, Last week: 25): This has been a lost season for Calgary, and it’s only going to get worse with back-to-back road games in Anaheim and Los Angeles this week.
26. Columbus Blue Jackets (30-38-8, Last week: 26): Columbus has won just three of its last 10 games and its minus-42 goal differential is the second-worst in the league. The Blue Jackets only have the draft lottery to look forward to.
27. Winnipeg Jets (31-38-7, Last week: 28): Winnipeg could see its lottery odds improve because it has a difficult schedule to close the regular season with matchups against Chicago, Minnesota, Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles.
28. Vancouver Canucks (27-36-13, Last week: 27): Vancouver has the worst goal differential in the league (minus-49) and one win in its last 10 games. That includes a nine-game skid as well.
29. Toronto Maple Leafs (28-37-11, Last week: 30): The Leafs have won six of their last 10 games, proving they aren’t very good at tanking.
30. Edmonton Oilers (30-42-7, Last week: 29): Edmonton has 67 points and is the only team to play 79 games so far. Basically, the Oilers probably will have the best odds to win the lottery again.
Thumbnail photo via Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask