Boston Bruins: A Look Ahead Into the First Round

Mark MarinoSenior Analyst IApril 8, 2009

BOSTON - FEBRUARY 24:  Michael Ryder #73 of the Boston Bruins is congratulated by teammates P.J. Axelsson #11, Patrice Bergeron #37 and Marc Savard #91 after Ryder scored a goal in the third period against the Florida Panthers on February 24, 2009 at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 6-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Last Saturday was Fan Appreciation Game at the TD Banknorth Garden. There were many prizes given out to the fans; including playoff tickets, gift certificates, shirts off our backs, and many more.

But perhaps the greatest gift the Bruins gave their fans that day was a 1-0 victory over the New York Rangers, clinching the best record in the Eastern Conference, and giving Boston home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs—the first time since 2003-'04.

The Presidents Trophy for the best record in the NHL is still mathematically possible, but highly unlikely. The last time Boston won this coveted trophy was back in the 1989-'90 season.

The Bruins (112 points) have one game in hand over the San Jose Sharks (117 points) in the West, however, the Sharks need just two-points in their final two-games to solidify their No. 1 spot—against the 14th place Phoenix Coyotes and the 13th place L.A. Kings.

With the No. 1 seed, we can now fast-forward to Apr. 12, 2009—the official schedule release of the NHL playoffs—and anticipate one of three teams that the Black and Gold will face as their first-round opponents.


Montreal Canadiens

As history has proven to us over the years, the Canadiens certainly have the upper-hand over the Bruins in the playoffs. In the 2003-'04 seasons, the first-place Bruins fell victim—yet again—to the eighth seed Canadiens in a seven game series.

However, the Bruins went 4-0-1 against the Canadiens this year, with five major penalties in those five games played. Montreal may have the 154-143 shots on goal advantage, but Boston has outscored the Habs 18-9 during those five meetings.

Tack on the 166 total penalty minutes between the two teams, and this 80-plus-year rivalry was as entertaining as any.

This year, the Canadiens are running out of time and players, and may in fact miss the post-season for the second time in three years.

Montreal currently holds the seventh spot in the East with 92 points. They have lost their last two games, including their most recent 3-1 loss against the eighth place Rangers (91 points).

Defensemen Andrei Markov (out three-weeks) and Mathieu Schneider (out for the season) are the latest victims to land on the injured-reserve list—two irreplaceable blue-liners. Defenseman Francis Bouillon (groin) and forward Robert Lang (achilles) have also been on the IR since February.

The Habs have two regular season games remaining: Thursday night at Boston and Saturday night versus the sixth place, Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points). It’s not looking good for the boys north of the border, but still possible.


New York Rangers

Just 2-3-0 in their last five, the Rangers (91 points) are just one win away from clinching a playoff berth.

In their four meetings during the regular season, Boston is 2-1-1 against the Rangers. New York’s net minder Henrik Lundqvist started all four contests, while only allowing seven goals on 115 shots against.

Lundqvist has been the catalyst for the Rangers success this season. The All-Star (36-25-7) ranks fourth in the NHL in wins and losses, with a respectable 2.44 GAA and .915 SV percentage. Posting a record of 6-4-0 in his last 10 starts, No. 30 has a shutout against the New Jersey Devils, and has only surrendered 20 goals on 273 shots during that span.

The Rangers host the fourth place Philadelphia Flyers (97 points) tomorrow night at Madison Square Garden; then finish off the regular season in Philly on Sunday. An eighth place slot is almost certain, but I believe the Rangers will end up seventh when it’s all said-and-done.


Florida Panthers

The Panthers are right on the playoff bubble and are making this thing interesting, having gone 4-2-0 in their last six. Their most recent game didn’t help their cause, falling short to the Flyers, 2-1 on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, Florida is making their last final push toward the No. 8 slot with two remaining must-win games—at Atlanta against the Thrashers tomorrow night, and back home on Saturday night against the Washington Capitals.

The Bruins are 3-1 against the Panthers this season while outscoring Florida 14-5 in those four.

Goaltender Tomas Vokoun went 1-1 in his two starts (Nov. 21, Feb. 21) against the B’s, while stopping 76 of 80 shots that he faced—including a 41-save shutout.

While splitting the time with Vokoun, Craig Anderson didn’t fare so well in his two starts—allowing nine goals on 66 shots in two losing efforts.

It has been eight years—excluding the lockout season—since the Big Bad Bruins have made it past the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, but something tells me that this season will be different.