BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins have been in somewhat of a swoon lately, posting a 5-5-1 record in the month of April that defines mediocrity. The exclamation point on the stretch of poor play came Tuesday night in Philadelphia, when the Bruins couldn’t muster much of anything against a non-playoff team that is simply playing out the string, eventually losing 5-2.
Certainly, the Bruins are better than a .500 team, and it goes without saying that they won’t make it far in the playoffs if they don’t improve. But with that being understood, just how important is it for the Bruins to finish the season with two or three wins to secure the Northeast Division title?
Or more directly, is it important at all?
As it currently stands, the Bruins have the same point total as Montreal but are in first place in the division, by virtue of having played one fewer game than the Canadiens. Neither the Bruins or Canadiens have exactly seized the opportunity to win the division, with the Habs going 2-6-0 since beating Boston on April 6.
The Bruins and Canadiens have been so bad lately that the Maple Leafs can still improbably win the Northeast Division.
Boston can’t be concerned with Montreal or Toronto — the team has enough issues of its own — but with three games left, and with a tired roster that could benefit from some rest this week, how high on the priority list is a division title?
The biggest benefit, in theory, to winning the division would be securing the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference. The positive there would be guaranteeing that they wouldn’t have to face top-seeded Pittsburgh until the conference finals, if both teams were fortunate enough to make it that far.
That, however, is only part of the equation, as the Bruins can’t count on making it even to the second round without a favorable first-round opponent.
At this very moment, the Bruins would play seventh-seeded Ottawa. Considering the Bruins went 4-0-0 against the Senators this season, that would probably be the ideal first-round matchup. However, with just four points separating the No. 5 and No. 9 seed, the bottom of the playoff picture is certain to change over the final days of the season. That No. 7 team could very well end up being a more difficult opponent, such as the Rangers or Islanders. Considering the Bruins went 1-0-2 against the Rangers and 2-1-0 against the Islanders, and considering the Islanders are red-hot heading into the playoffs, working hard to win the division only to end up facing either New York team seems to be an unfair fate.
If they do lose the division and drop the No. 4 seed, there are the same uncertainties regarding a first-round opponent. The Maple Leafs, against whom the Bruins went 3-1-0 this season, are in fifth, but that is of course subject to change.
The Bruins’ problems are many, but is the best course of action for Claude Julien and Co. trying to fix all the issues and playing all-out in the final three games of the season, or is it to rest key players and regroup before Game 1 of the conference quarterfinals?