Here’s where the fun begins.
Not that this Bruins season hasn’t been thusly entertaining and dazzling at times (see Krejci, David in Tuesday night’s 4-1 win over the New York Islanders, and Chara, Zdeno against the Florida Panthers on Sunday) but let’s face it, the schedule-makers have been overly generous to the Black and Gold thus so far during this 48-game sprint. No team in the National Hockey League has played fewer than the 16 games in which the Bruins have raced out to a 12-2-2 record. Boston has played three games fewer than Montreal, four games fewer than fellow Eastern Conference rivals Ottawa, Pittsburgh, and Toronto, all in the midst of the current playoff picture.
That’s about to change dramatically.
After playing their first 16 games over 40 days, the Bruins will now face an end of February-March stretch in which they will play 18 games over 33 days, and a total of 32 games over the final 58 days of the regular season. For a team that has played back-to-back games only one time this season. That is in dramatic contrast to the rest of their conference opponents.
According to the website, SenShot, consider that the Canadiens and Senators, Thursday night’s opponent at the TD Garden, have already played four back-to-backs this season, and will play eight total. The Sabres will also play eight back-to-backs this season, while the Maple Leafs will have a total of nine. But even with the grueling schedule ahead, the Bruins will play only five more the rest of the way, which, as you might imagine, has some of the competition crying foul. But, what else is new?
It’s not like the back-to-backs are any cake walks either. Tampa-Bay-Montreal, Ottawa-Pittsburgh, Washington-Pittsburgh, Philadelphia-Buffalo, and New Jersey-New York Islanders stand in the way on consecutive days over the next month-plus, and only once will the Bruins have more than more than a day in between games. Not sure where the advantage is in that stretch.
While the early-season schedule has had plenty of benefit for Boston, the next stretch calls for plenty of challenge for physical bounce back, and a healthy dose of Anton Khudobin, who has relieved Tuukka Rask of his duties in net only three times this season.
Boston has the best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference, but its 26 points have the team tied with Ottawa for second in the Northeast Division, and fourth in the conference. But based on their talent level, and the games in hand, that’s about to change rather quickly.
The Bruins may not be spending “more days in first place” these days, but it’s become resoundingly evident that they are in the elite class of the East. And things are about to get awfully busy.