The Boston Bruins are just three points out of first place in the Atlantic Division. But thanks to their recent slide, which began last week in California and continued Wednesday night in New York, that same margin now separates them from ninth place in the Eastern Conference.
A season-long losing streak — which hit four games with a 5-2 loss to the Rangers — has put the Bruins in a precarious position as they look to return to the Stanley Cup playoffs after a one-year absence, and it’s turned Thursday’s upcoming meeting with the Florida Panthers into an immensely important one.
The Panthers, Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning are locked in what amounts to a three-team race for first place in the Atlantic Division, with Florida and Tampa Bay entering Thursday in a tie for the top spot. Boston sits three points back of both and just three ahead of the fourth-place Detroit Red Wings, who recently lost their hold on a wild-card playoff spot.
A win Thursday night would bring the Bruins to within a point of first. Lose, and that gap swells to five points with just seven games remaining, including daunting visits to St. Louis and Chicago. The good news: Boston has yet to stumble against the boys from Sunrise this season, going undefeated in three meetings with Florida.
As was the case in all three of their losses out West, the Bruins had their chances against a Rangers team that entered with the East’s second-best record. But New York followed up two dubious Bruins penalties with power-play goals to take an early 2-0 lead, and an inconclusive review resulted in a no-goal ruling on a late bid by Lee Stempniak.
Stempniak narrowly missed out on a hat trick for the Bruins, as he scored once and had another goal wiped away after a coach’s challenge revealed that both Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron had been offside on the play.
Officials made the correct call on that particular play, but the whistles that led to New York’s first two goals were far more questionable. This was especially true of the second infraction, a holding call on David Krejci that preceded a Derek Stepan tally.
Bruins coach Claude Julien blasted the penalty in his postgame meeting with reporters, calling it a “crappy, (BS) call.” Despite this misfortune, though, Julien said the Bruins deserved the result they got.
“I don’t think we played well enough to win,” Julien told reporters. “We seemed out of sync (Wednesday night). We didn’t seem to … those tape-to-tape passes were far and few between there. We needed to be better, so I think that that was a disappointing part of our game (Wednesday night) — a game that we really needed to win. Somehow, we just didn’t seem to be in sync.”
Being on the same page will be paramount against the Panthers, as games quickly will take on the “much-win” label if this slump continues.
Thumbnail photo via Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports Images
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