Resetting the NHL playoff picture with the Bruins now in the mix

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Since he took over as Bruins (34-26-6) interim head coach exactly a month ago, Bruce Cassidy has led quite a resurgence for the black and gold -so much so that dropping the interim tag seems like a formality at this point.

Boston has gone 8-3-0 under Cassidy and all three of those losses have been against quality opposition (at Anaheim, vs. Rangers and at Senators), which leads to another thought for the B’s heading into the stretch run. They are currently situated at third place in the Atlantic Division so we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here but should they advance to the postseason, they’ll want to avoid the Rangers (42-22-2) and Senators (36-22-6) for as long as they can.

New York completed the three-game season sweep with Boston by virtue of a playoff-like 2-1 victory last Thursday at TD Garden. The Metropolitan Division is so tight that right nowthe Rangersare in fourth-place – so they are the first Wild Card in the Eastern Conference. That’s what makes Ottawa more relevant to this theoretical conversation since its 4-2 win over visiting Boston on Monday showed that the B’s still can’t figure them out (0-2 this season with 2 more meetings to come). Since the Senators are in second place in the Atlantic Division, the two teams could very well meet in a first round playoff matchup this spring.

“They played their game better than we played ours, in a nutshell,” admitted Cassidy on Monday after the loss in Ottawa. “It was a little disappointing at times that we were that stubborn, that was it to me.”

Under head coach Guy Boucher (formerly of the Lightning), the Senators play a neutral zone trap built to frustrate opponents while also taking much excitement out of the game. It worked on Monday, particularly when the Bruins handed them a 2-0 lead just 3:25 into regulation.

Slow starts like that were much more commonplace under head coach Claude Julien and the good news for the B’s is that they return home to face two teams that are currenly out of the playoff picture: Detroit (25-27-11) on Wednesday (8, NBC Sports) and Philadelphia (30-26-8) on Saturday afternoon (1, NESN). As their pair of wins over the hapless Coyotes and Devils last week proved, another troubling trait of Julien’s teams the last few years (playing down to the competition) seems to have evaporated.

Monday’s key win put Ottawa four points ahead of Boston with two games in hand. The Bruins would probably have to sweep the last two games against the Senators (in regulation) to have any hope of passing them in the division. Boston is three points ahead of the Islanders (30-23-11) for the second wild card although New York has two games in hand. Finally, Toronto (28-22-14) has been sinking lately (3-4-3 in its last 10) but it remains only four points back of Boston with two games in hand. Florida (29-24-11) and Tampa Bay (30-26-9) are also within shouting distance of the Bruins with games in hand which means that this race will likely come down to the final days of the regular season, again.

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