The question is an easy one following their 201 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday, one has to wonder – can the Bruins learn to finish, or are they finished? Despite hitting the New Jersey net 40 times, Boston was only able to finish off one attack, with Brad Marchand notching his 35th goal of the season. Keith Kinkaid played net in place of Cory Schneider who missed his 11th game with a knee sprain, and played well, allowing just a single goal while making a career-high 39 saves. In a game where the Bs mustered several chances, they missed golden opportunities, which cost them the win. Despite losing, the Bruins were able to hold on to their playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, due to the Detroit Red Wings loss to the Montreal Canadiens, and at press time they maintained the third spot in the Atlantic Division. Their bigger worry is the Philadelphia Flyers who like Detroit are also a single point behind Boston, but currently have three games in hand.
The Bruins have now lost six of their last seven games, and are no longer, as they so often say, “In charge of their own destiny.” Coach Claude Julien was not a happy camper in his postgame comments, “You can look at it whichever way you want, but you’ve got to look at yourselves and blame yourselves for this loss. You can say you tried, but at this time of year it’s not good enough. The situation that we’re in, we expect better from ourselves. We’ve got to play for our lives. It’s our own fault if we make it harder on ourselves all the time. Obviously when you look at the way the game went, the game plan was good, but the part that we can’t help them with is the finishing part and that’s what we need to get better at.”
For the Bruins the decline has become an epidemic, one that had recently seen their power play rankings near the top of the league, only to drop down rapidly to the middle of the pack. Their stats looking rather weak have the power play effectiveness at 20.6%, and the penalty kill at 82%. Both paltry numbers compared to the high numbers they’d been posting earlier in the season. Proof of their decline is obvious, as their numbers show that in their last seven games they’ve only been able to earn two points (Toronto win) of the 14 available.
As for the immediate future, Boston has a tough schedule ahead, with road games versus the St. Louis Blues on Friday (4/1 at 8:00pm), and the Chicago Black Hawks in a Sunday matinee (4/3 at 12:30). As time runs out on playoff opportunities, the Red Wings and Bruins will play at the Garden on Thursday, April 7th, in what could be their most important game of the 2015-16 season. Foremost on many minds, is the chance that their current decline may lead to Boston’s déjà vu of last season’s finish.
Tuukka Rask faced 15 shots versus the Devils, stopping 13, as the loss dropped his record to 29-22. His stats continue to be respectable with a 2.51 goals-against-average, and a save percentage of .918. With just five games remaining on the schedule, and the playoff race so tight, Rask will likely be in net on a regular basis, with Jonas Gustavsson not supplying any respite. Each point will become a major issue, with the season ending up with a team or two missing the playoffs by a point.
The final week of the season, April 3-9th will supply the final answer to this current Bruins team’s capabilities. The Bruins schedule finishes off on Garden ice with games against the Carolina Hurricanes, Red Wings, and the finale versus the Ottawa Senators. When all is done, the injuries, the call-ups from Providence, and the play of new and veteran players will be scrutinized. Finishing with a playoff spot would soften the crunch, while elimination will probably create chaos, much like the end of last season.
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