Three weeks from now, the 2015 NHL playoffs begin whether the Bruins like it or not.
If Boston (36-25-12) wants to be a part of arguably the best postseason in professional sports, it has a great deal of work to do over its final nine regular season games. Going into Thursday’s meeting (7 p.m., NESN) with powerful Anaheim (46-22-7) at TD Garden, the B’s are in ninth-place in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa (37-24-11) is one point ahead of Boston for a wild card spot and it has a game in-hand.
Even more troubling for the B’s is the fact that the Senators are the hottest team in the NHL right now (winners of their last seven games) while the Bruins have dropped their last five. Trying to figure out how Boston has fallen so far this season, a year after winning the Presidents’ Trophy is tough to rationally explain. What is for certain is that if the B’s should miss the playoffs, big changes will come over what would be an endless summer. General manager Peter Chiarelli and possibly head coach Claude Julien could be fired and some of their top players could be traded.
“We all know where we are, we all know what we have to do if we want to be in the playoffs,” Julien said this week. “We just have to react and win some hockey games.” While one of their top defensemen, Dougie Hamilton (10 goals, 32 assists), is now out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, though the Bruins could get back center David Krejci (7 goals, 19 assists in 38 games) either against the Ducks or this weekend when they have a back-to-back against the Rangers (46-19-7) on Saturday (1 p.m., NESN) then at the Hurricanes (26-36-10) on Sunday (5, NESN). Krejci, Boston’s top-line center, has been out since Feb. 20 after suffering a knee injury at St. Louis.
After playing 11 games in 18 grueling days (5-4-2), the B’s returned home on Sunday for a much-needed chance to regroup for a few days and clear their minds. The entire team had their heads shaved at the annual “Cuts for a Cause” charity event on Tuesday, which is always a good team-bonding experience, and a rare chance to meet some of their adoring fans. With four games left at the Garden, and five games on the road, Boston can still control its own fate. Five of those games are against playoff teams, two are against non-playoff clubs and two remain vs. the Panthers, who are four points behind the Bruins.
“We know what’s at stake and we know how hard we have to play,” noted left wing Milan Lucic. “This is the playoffs: we’ve been talking about playoff hockey and being in that mode for the last month. Now it’s even more of a reality than before.”