Boston Bruins

Feb 17, 2022; Elmont, New York, USA; New York Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson (8) and Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) battle for the puck along the boards during the first period at UBS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports

It’s going to take an awful lot for the Bruins to fall out of the postseason picture.

An almost impossible series of events, in fact. As of Friday, the Bruins sit six points above ninth-place Detroit. The Bruins also have three games in hand over the Red Wings, meaning that six-point advantage could balloon out to 12 should the Bruins completely take care of their games in hand advantage between now and the end of the season. The only real threat to the Bruins, you’d think, are the same Islanders who beat the Bruins by a 4-1 final on Thursday night. With Thursday’s win, the Islanders are now 16 points back of eighth-place Boston, and have four games in hand.

It’s not impossible, of course, but that’s still one hell of a mountain to climb, and the Islanders would need to go white hot from now through 82 and the B’s would have to go ice cold. It’s just a lot. Confirmed by the math giving New York a three percent chance of making the 2022 playoffs. That same math makes it hard to truly cry that the sky is falling every time the Bruins drop a game or be taken seriously when planning the parade when the Bruins rattle off a winning streak.

It just seems these Bruins, who are comfortably in a wild card spot but drifting further from competing for a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division, are very much stuck in the middle. Which is rarely, if ever, a fun place to be.

Now, the Bruins have made it clear that their intentions are to compete for a Stanley Cup in 2022.

Their offseason full of veteran additions, as well as the status of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, their two over-30 superstars still carrying this team on a nightly basis, confirmed that before they even said as much.

But the Bruins also need significant help to truly see that vision come to life.

They could use another high-end center to stick in the middle of their second line, and their defense could most definitely use another reliable gamebreaking talent, be it on the left or right side (maybe even both). But setting out to acquire those pieces in-season and at premium prices as a wild card club requires a lot of luck to go your way, and it raises legitimate concerns about ‘going all in’ for that additional help. If the Bruins are going to give themselves the hardest road possible to compete for a Cup, selling off your already-limited resources both on the prospect and draft pick front is a tough pill to swallow. That’s without getting into the fact that the Bruins are doing that with a general manager who does not have a contract beyond this season.

But, again, the Bruins need help and they appear a bit too dug in to reverse course now. And the Bruins’ punchless offense without Bergeron and Marchand was an unpleasant scream in the face that this team needs help.

“We do need secondary offense from the backend. We need some players that are down in the lineup to kick in some goals here and there in games like these when the guys we rely on don’t have it,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Thursday’s loss at UBS Arena. “The pucks have to arrive.”

“You’ve got to keep shooting, keep attacking and hope that the floodgates open,” Bruins winger Taylor Hall said. “It’s been tough sledding for us scoring. That doesn’t mean you shoot less, it means you shoot more and try and attack more and create second chances, which at times I thought we did.”

That’s been an issue all month, really, with the Bruins averaging a league-low 1.50 goals per game in the month of February, while their 4.48 all-situation shooting percentage for the month also ranks dead last (they’ve been even worse than Montreal, and they’re an unwatchably bad hockey team). Cassidy is also running out of formulas and combinations to unlock the team’s scoring woes outside of one or two-game sugar highs, like what you saw from the Frederic-Coyle-Smith line.

At a certain point, you start to look outside. But, again, what’s a palatable price for a team in the middle? And is this something that the Bruins are properly equipped to navigate given their roster construct? That’s a legitimate debate, especially when it’s been almost five full years since the Bruins were last in this spot as a true middle-of-the-pack threat.

As for the idea of the Bruins suddenly becoming sellers? It’s not happening. Forget about the standings for a second. The Bruins have just three pending unrestricted free agents currently healthy and on their NHL roster. That group includes Patrice Bergeron (not happening) and fourth-line forwards Anton Blidh and Curtis Lazar. Jake DeBrusk is a pending free agent, and he’s already made it clear that he wants out, but the Bruins are holding firm and refusing to sell him for pennies on the dollar. Get beyond those players and the Bruins have a staggering 17 players on their NHL roster signed for at least another season after this campaign. That’s not what you’d consider a seller-friendly roster.

It’s the middle, baby. And it can be a wildly frustrating place to sit, as everyone’s realizing.

Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-1 loss on Long Island

  • Feb 17, 2022; Elmont, New York, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Taylor Hall (71) celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders during the first period at UBS Arena. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)

    Taylor Hall stands out as lone bright spot

    If you’re looking for a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing night, Taylor Hall had you covered, with Boston’s lone goal in the defeat and a team-high seven shots in over 20 minutes of time on ice.

    That was a much-needed bounce-back game for Hall after he was denied by the Rangers on Tuesday night and after his line had a disappointing night as a whole.

  • Oct 20, 2018; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Boston Bruins defenseman Urho Vaakanainen (58) warms up against the the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. (Anne-Marie Sorvin/USA TODAY Sports)

    Urho Vaakanainen makes return to B’s lineup

    In addition to the return of Patrice Bergeron, Thursday night came with a return to play for B’s defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, who bounced around the lineup and finished with one shot and two hits in 20:00 of action by the night’s end.

    As noted, his night began with Derek Forbort on the Black and Gold’s third pairing, but also included a run opposite Charlie McAvoy on the B’s top pairing (it’s an intriguing option for the Bruins), and with Cassidy pleased with his game.

    “I thought [Vaakanainen] was good, moved the puck well,” Cassidy said. “On the surface, I thought he looked good coming back into the lineup.”

  • Feb 12, 2022; Calgary, Alberta, CAN; New York Islanders defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) warms up before a game against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome. (Candice Ward/USA TODAY Sports)

    About a Zdeno Chara reunion…

    With ‘toughness’ and defense being a big talking point in 2021-22, I’ve received more than a few tweets this season wondering if the Bruins could look into the idea of a reunion with ex-captain Zdeno Chara this deadline.

    And while it’s a fun idea (I’ve always hated watching Chara in anything but a Boston sweater, to be honest), I’d have to say the chances of this happening sit just above zero point zero. The Bruins had their concerns about Chara’s game when he first left the team in 2020 — my understanding is that the Bruins offered the 6-foot-9 Chara more money than the Caps did, but didn’t want to guarantee playing time or big minutes and wanted to operate with more of a ‘less is more’ mindset — and Chara hasn’t exactly proved them wrong on that front. And though the Bruins could certainly use some more snarl, left-side defense is probably their deepest position on the roster, and a 45-year-old Chara isn’t changing that group’s ceiling in 2022. That 2020 split between the sides obviously involved pride, too, and that’s another discussion as a whole.

    In other words, I just don’t see the fit.