The playoffs are fast approaching. After this weekend, teams will play out the final weeks of their schedules, and it will be the same drill as every year. Sixteen teams are in, 14 are out, and everyone who’s in is excited for the playoffs.
Yet this regular season featured one tease so great that the playoffs, at least in one aspect, will be a letdown. After spending most of the season looking like they’d be the surprise team to sneak into the postseason, the Jets, currently six points out of the eighth spot, will miss the playoffs.
The Eastern Conference is far better this season than it was a year ago. The Rangers, Penguins, Bruins and maybe even Flyers are legitimate Cup contenders, but how much greater would it have been if Winnipeg and its out-of-the-way/incredibly noisy arena were a part of it too?
In their first season since moving from Atlanta, the Jets went from a team receiving little attention to a team that both had an entire city behind it -- their season tickets sold out in a matter of 17 minutes -- and one that showed it could compete for a spot in the postseason. The Jets got a career year out of Blake Wheeler (61 points – which would tie for the Bruins lead this season – through 75 games), and proved to be one of the toughest teams to beat at home in the Eastern Conference (their 50 home points were fourth in the conference as of Friday).
The Jets held a playoff spot as recently as March 8, but the fact that they had been sellers at the trade deadline (they shipped defenseman Johnny Oduya to Chicago for second and third-round picks on Feb. 27) and a pretty steep slide (they’re 2-7-0 since March 8), has put that eighth spot out of reach with the Sabres and Capitals likely to make it instead.
As poorly as they’ve played at points this season would the Jets and their deafening fans really be a team the top-seeded Rangers would want to face in the first round of the playoffs? With how crazy MTS Centre has been during the regular season, it’s tough to imagine it being an easy place to play on the road in the postseason.
Winnipeg’s first year back in the league showed lots of promise. It would have been a lot more special – for all of hockey – if they could have sustained it.
CANADIENS GO FROM SO CLOSE TO SO LONG, EVERYONE
Bad luck separated the Canadiens from eliminating the Bruins in the first round last season. If Carey Price doesn’t misplay a puck, Michael Ryder doesn’t stop one, or any other variable could have worked out in their favor, they could have bested the Bruins in what was perhaps their most challenging round of the postseason.
If the Canadiens could have moved on, they would have faced the empty-netted Capitals, and there’s no telling what would have happened there. Either way, the Habs came a small dose of good fortune away from making some serious noise in the playoffs.
Fast forward one year, and it’s like the first episode of The Walking Dead. Everyone’s gone, and it looks like a mess.
On Thursday, Montreal axed Pierre Gauthier, making the general manager the latest to lose their job as the Habs have struggled to the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
Prior to free agency, the Habs traded the rights to defenseman James Wisniewski because they weren’t confident they could sign him, but they later added free agent Erik Cole to a group of veteran forwards that already included Brian Gionta, Michael Cammalleri. With young stars Carey Price, P.K. Subban and Max Pacioretty a year older, the Habs entered the season with every reason to believe they could repeat or improve on their sixth-place season of a year ago.
Then the season began, and a slow start turned into a lengthy drought. First to be ousted was assistant coach Perry Pearn, who was fired after a six-game losing-streak in late October. In early December, Gauthier tried shaking things up by trading Jaroslav Spacek for the grossly overpaid Tomas Kaberle. Later in the month, they canned coach Jacques Martin and promoted the uni-lingual Randy Cunneyworth, which made for plenty of controversy in Montreal amongst French-speaking media and fans.
Cammalleri eventually talked his way out of town by saying there was a losing attitude in the Habs’ room, and he wasn’t the only one dealt. Knowing a playoff spot was far out of reach, Montreal traded veteran defenseman Hal Gill and forward Andrei Kostitsyn to Nashville.
Now with the Habs battling with the Oilers for the second-worst record in the league, a hockey town that was once excited about regaining its glory can only be excited about a draft pick, as the team will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Things got messy quickly in Montreal, but for the sake of a good rivalry, Bruins fans should hope they don’t spend too long as a team that can’t compete.
NEW 47 IN TOWN
On Tuesday, when the Bruins took the ice for morning skate, with them was a shorter Michigan-born defenseman. On his helmet was the No. 47, and though he was a left-handed shot, the similarities to former Bruin Steven Kampfer were amusing.
Krug had longer hair earlier in the week, but shaved his head as part of Shawn Thornton’s “Cuts For a Cause” event. The similarities on the ice are there when it comes to Krug, who played college hockey at Michigan State, and Kampfer, a Michigan grad, but Krug said his number choice had nothing to do with Kampfer. It did have something to do with a couple other former Bruins blueliners, though.
“I was 44 at Michigan State,” he explained. “I talk about 47, and I like to think a little Bobby Orr and Ray Bourque. A little bit of a mix of the two.”
Did he know that the last person to wear the number was a former college rival of his?
“I knew that,” he said. “I obviously watch Kampfer, but I'm wearing it now.”
Now for the mini-mailbag, where I’ll take 3-5 questions from twitter followers and give answers that extend past 140 characters.
@drjefflo most improved player this season for the #Bruins?
The easy answer is Jordan Caron, but that’s probably because it’s the correct answer. He’s never been a plus skater, but Caron is a hard-worker who is strong on the forecheck and isn’t afraid to go into some of the areas fellow youngster Tyler Seguin has been known to avoid.
To consider that Caron, who was sent down to the AHL six different times, would end up being a viable option for the Bruins on each and every line, speaks volumes. I actually still like him as a better option as the right wing on David Krejci’s line rather than Seguin. Nothing against Seguin, but having a stronger defensive player may limit the goals that Krejci’s line allows. Plus, Seguin’s shortcomings defensively don’t hurt the Bruins when he’s on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
@TrentSouth how far will the bruins get in the playoffs?!
The question last season was whether the Bruins could get out of the second round, and though they barely got out of the first round, what they went on to do makes the expectations much greater this season. The fans have seen they can do it, so they want to see it again.
The other notable difference between this year and last year is that the Eastern Conference was up for grabs a season ago because there didn’t appear to be a clear-cut upper-echelon. This season, you have to consider the Rangers, Penguins, Bruins and maybe even Flyers as major forces, so the road back to the Stanley Cup finals will be much tougher. As we’ve seen, the puck can bounce in funny ways in the postseason, but I don’t think the Bruins are the best team in the conference. The guess is they’ll make it to Eastern Conference finals.
@angerfist25103 Bruins PP 0-12738. Rounding into form for the playoffs.
That’s a fair point, but the B’s showed last spring that they can win in the postseason without a good power play.
Through Thursday night’s game, the Bruins have gone give straight games without a power play goal (0-for-10), but the most alarming part of that is the fact that five of those power plays came in one game. The Bruins have had just one man advantage in three of their last five contests, and a power play isn’t going to score a ton if it isn’t getting opportunities. They have four games this month in which they’ve had one or zero power plays, which matches their highest total of the season (February).
Entering the weekend, the Bruins’ power play is ranked 17th in the league, as they score on the man advantage 17.1 percent of the time.