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Joe Marraccino The Hockey Writers

Published on Sunday, February 14, 2016





Atlantic Division Parity Is Saving The Boston Bruins

Prior to the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, Bruins fans didn’t know what they would get from their team.

A new general manager and several moving parts made Boston one of the “wild cards”; nobody knew what they would be or where they would finish. A playoff spot seemed to be the expectation from team president Cam Neely and CEO Charlie Jacobs.

Well, just under two months remain before the postseason begins and the Bruins sit in second place of the Atlantic Division, four points back of the surprising Florida Panthers for the division lead.

Through all of their inconsistencies, defensive breakdowns and poor home form (12-14-3), Boston is in a great position to not only make the playoffs but also win an unlikely division crown and/or home ice, even though that could be more of a curse than a blessing.

So, how have the Bruins managed to find themselves in such an enviable position? Perhaps it’s Brad Marchand’s white-hot stick scoring 13 goals in his last 13 games or maybe it’s Boston’s incredible form on the road (18-5-3).

Or maybe it’s because of the other seven teams in their division.

Building From The Bottom Up

Last season, Toronto and Buffalo found themselves as the unofficial whipping boys of the East. Their struggles enabled six teams to eclipse 100 points on the season while the Bruins earned the dubious honor of being the first team in NHL history to accrue 96 points and miss the postseason.

This year, Mike Babcock and Dan Bylsma have made their mark on the Leafs and Sabres, respectively. Toronto may sit in the Eastern cellar but they’ve become much tougher to play against while Buffalo is also improving from their 54-point total a season ago. These two teams may finish with top-five picks again but they haven’t been an easy out for any team this year.

Mon Dieu!

As for the other end of the spectrum, the Montreal Canadiens started the season on a tear, reeling of nine straight wins to begin the campaign. Looking like world-beaters in the beginning, they’re now trying to avoid being bottom-feeders. Carey Price’s lower-body injury hasn’t healed as quickly as Michel Terrien would have hoped and the Habs have suffered as a result.

Montreal sits five points out of the playoffs with the teams in front of them either level on games played or with games in hand. Who would have thought that back in November?

Sunshine State Superiority

Gallant finds himself as a viable candidate for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's best coach in 2016. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Gallant finds himself as a viable candidate for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach in 2016. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

The Sunshine State has also seen a revival from their two teams. Florida is still riding the coattails of a 12-game win streak either side of Christmas that took them to the Atlantic summit.

Gerard Gallant’s club made significant progress in his first season and are taking another giant step forward thanks to the progression of their young stars in Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aleksander Barkov along with the ageless wonder in Jaromir Jagr.

An indifferent start to the season left many in Tampa Bay wondering if this was the remnants of a Stanley Cup Finals hangover. Coach Jon Cooper had to fend off the questions regarding captain and free-agent-to-be Steven Stamkos. Through all of it, the Bolts have found themselves in a wild card spot and just six points back of first place.

However, they’ll have to fend off New Jersey and Carolina, who finished 13th and 14th in the East last season, to have an opportunity to defend their crown.

Battling Bruins

So, what does this all mean for Boston?

Through all the inconsistency and cries from fans to “sell, sell, sell” at the impending trade deadline, the Bruins are right in the mix thanks to the parity that reigns supreme this season. Every team in the division has had their ups-and-downs and the Black and Gold have found themselves playing well when other teams are struggling.

In fact, Claude Julien’s troops have gone on more win streaks of three or more games than losing streaks. Boston’s longest losing streak this season has been three games, so even when they aren’t playing well it isn’t for a prolonged period. That has enabled them to hold a playoff spot for the better part of the season.

Outside of Florida’s one big winning streak and Montreal’s dip in form, the Atlantic Division has been a crapshoot all year. It has worked out well to the Bruins advantage, so far. The proximity between a top-three spot and missing the playoffs is so razor-thin that every game means a little extra down the stretch.

After all, it could be the difference between Causeway Street buzzing with Black and Gold in April and barren streets in Boston.


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