Ranking Boston Bruins' 5 Biggest Games Remaining in the 2013-14 Season
The Boston Bruins will try to complete a season-series sweep in two marquee matchups to bookend the first full week of March. They will try to avoid a sweep in a time-honored divisional feud later in the month.
Overall, out of their 25 games separating the NHL’s Olympic break from the playoffs, the Bruins will engage an Atlantic Division opponent nine times. In five cases, the opponent in question should still be in playoff contention.
Elsewhere, they will have another nine engagements with teams in the gridlocked Metropolitan Division. Although, one of those teams may have the means to distance itself from the clutter of uncertainty as it has found its rhythm since its last bout with Boston.
Among seven nonconference clashes, one will feature a familiar foe in the 10th-to-final game of the regular season.
The finer points of the top five matchups to follow in the next six weeks are as follows.
5. March 8 at Tampa Bay
The intrigue of this game does not even begin or end with the possibility of a long-injured Steven Stamkos bursting out on a cyclonic rampage, daring any defensive counterpart to neutralize him.
In their first season as divisional cohabitants, the Bruins have created a gap by sweeping the first three quarters of their four-game season series with the Lightning. Tampa Bay has yet to gain a single point through any of those meetings and is now seven points out of first place in the division.
If the Bolts are to have any chance of bumping the Bruins out of the Atlantic’s top seed, they will need a regulation victory on this night. But even without potential implications in the standings, they will have no shortage of incentive to prove that Boston has not seen them at their best.
They are not alone in that department. In fact, there is another game on Boston’s itinerary six nights beforehand bearing the exact same sidebar.
On that note…
4. March 2 at N.Y. Rangers
Since then, first-year skipper Alain Vigneault’s pupils have posted a 19-11-3 record, replenishing their viability as playoff contenders. Only two additional engagements separate each club from their third and final regular-season meeting.
This Sunday’s bout at Madison Square Garden will occur three nights before the March 5 trading deadline. It will be barely a week after top goaltenders Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask backstopped their respective countries to an Olympic medal.
For them, there is no time like the present to put forth a classic from-the-goal-out grind and set a tone to springboard off the Olympics for the homestretch of the NHL season.
For the Rangers, this will be a chance to ceremoniously dump more of their autumn shards out with the Zamboni snow. Therefore, for the Bruins, it should be the first of many late-season tussles with a formidable, yet desperate opponent.
3. April 3 at Toronto
The Bruins will have six other pairs of back-to-back games before this and one more on the final weekend of the schedule. None, however, compare to the one they will embark on at the outset of April.
The host Maple Leafs will constitute Boston’s opponent in the second half of the set in question. Barring dramatic shifts in the landscape, they will be digging with desperation for points with a week and a half left in the season.
Regardless of the outcome of the April 3 tilt, it could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup, which would commence two weeks thereafter. In addition, if either party makes any moves at the deadline, their final rosters will have had virtually a month to gel ahead of this contest.
Venturing into the Air Canada Centre one night after tangling with Detroit to face an eager, established rival will be a late-season test the Bruins ought to embrace.
2. March 12/24 at/vs. Montreal
After bookending the first full week of March with the aforementioned Blueshirts and Bolts, the Bruins will play the opposite role when they visit the Bell Centre. That is, they will be trying to hatch the goose-egg in their season-series point column.
If they swing and miss, or even get caught looking, they will have one final opportunity at home 12 nights later. If they can pilfer two points at Montreal’s mention, they will buy themselves a chance to forge a final 2-2 draw.
Not unlike the aforementioned Toronto matchup, the Bruins-Canadiens card stands a stronger-than-average chance of resurfacing at the start of the playoffs. With the new format, it could happen almost as easily in the second round as it could in the opening round.
Not unlike the aforementioned New York matchup, there is no need for hyperbole in terms of stressing the goaltending factor. Montreal’s Carey Price is the other medalist goaltender fresh out of the Olympics, and he is coming off two medal-round shutouts en route to gold.
The last thing the Bruins want in advance of a potential postseason bout is to let a rightly confident Price snowball his breakthrough down the stretch. Unlike most other matchups, they are looking to don hunter hats with the Habs at hand.
Well, they will have that role on at least one other occasion, which takes us to No. 1...
1. March 27 vs. Chicago
After coming up empty in the first two installments of a three-game road trip in the first full week of January, Boston began to reverse its fortunes against the established powers of the Western Conference. Since Jan. 11, it has gone a cumulative 2-0-2 against the Sharks, Blackhawks, Kings and Blues.
The Bruins' March 27 home date with the Hawks will be a chance to embolden the authenticity of their stamina against a stronger circuit. It will also be their chance to pursue a full two-point package after squandering one in a Jan. 19 visit to Chicago.
The Blackhawks will have plenty to play for as well. They are entering the post-Olympic homestretch in a virtual tie for first in the Central Division with St. Louis. The kicker is that the Blues have three games in hand, meaning every point is pivotal for the Hawks to prolong home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Between now and April 13, the Bruins will not face another adversary with the same combination of all-around power, cohesion, contender’s certification and desperation as the defending champions. March 27 will be one last chance to assert themselves among fellow Eastern teams by holding forth with a proven Western bigwig.
As a bonus, Boston will take off on a four-game road swing, one that includes the April 3 Toronto tilt once this is over. At that point, the “games remaining” column will have hit single digits and packing up a positive vibe for the trip will be an advisable practice.