The Boston Bruins survived Tampa Bay's furious comeback after the visiting team put the 'Bolts in a 5-0 hole last night, eking out a 5-4 win to go 3-0 on the four-game road trip before going on the two-week hiatus for the Olympics.
Steve Downie's second goal of the game cut Boston's once seemingly insurmountable lead to one with about three minutes left, and the Bruins barely weathered a storm in which the ice was tilted in their end, but Tuukka Rask held the fort in the final minute to give his team its third consecutive victory in his fifth straight start, giving the B's a tenuous hold on the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. If the season ended today, they'd be playing the Washington Capitals, who have lost two straight after putting together a franchise-record 14 consecutive victories.
But, Boston's win was big because it not only got them back into the playoff picture, but also impacted their 2010 draft by pushing Tampa Bay down in the standings. As has been documented in this space many times, the Bruins own Tampa's second-round pick by virtue of the Mark Recchi trade at the deadline last March, so the worse the 'Bolts do, the higher the selection will be. At one point, when Tampa had the fifth-worst record in the league, that pick would have been 35th overall, so if it is anywhere under 40 when the season is over, that will be good news for the B's.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are playing the St. Louis Blues on the road tonight, and folks can only hope that J.S. Giguere doesn't have another of his shutout moments. While the Leafs cannot catch anyone ahead of them in standings prior to the two-week Olympic break, any chance for them to lose points makes it that much more probable that Boston will end up with a top-three selection. There's a nice thread over at Hockey's Future Boards in which a poster named "orrovergretzky" has a mathematical magic numbers formula consisting of adding Toronto losses to wins from teams above them in the standings like Carolina, Columbus, the Islanders, etc. that will lock the pick in the top-2. For those who like dealing with those "magic numbers" type scenarios, it's worth tracking at: http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=720018
It's funny, but to read the comments of some Bruins fans on the internet last night and today, you'd have thought the team had lost. While the near-collapse was certainly troubling, to me it simply underscored that which most of us have come to realize already: this team is not a true contender this year. There are simply too many holes to fill and needs to address for Peter Chiarelli to expend critical assets in what would amount Quixotic quest for a Stanley Cup in 2010.
Now having said that, he should still try and make some kind of change if not to make the club significantly better this season, but give it a chance to improve over the long term. I'm no GM, but if he can start to re-tool and tweak the team before the off-season, then it's something worth doing, because as constituted, this year's version of the Boston Bruins, assuming they make it to the postseason, isn't likely to get very far.
Of course, this all falls in the easier said than done category, but the Bruins should look at being more of a seller than a buyer at the deadline, and the GM should resist the urge to part with his premium 2010 high draft selections to bring in overpriced (on the trade market) rental players. A 2nd round pick (in 2011) for Dominic Moore? That's what new Montreal GM Pierre Gauthier gave up for the journeyman forward and soon-to-be UFA, and if that's the going rate, Chiarelli is better off not bothering.
Now, I'm not a "hold onto draft picks at all costs" kind of guy, but if you're using them to go out and bring in past-his-prime graybeards for 20 or so games plus playoffs, that's probably not a great use of assets. If the GM is going to move any of those 1st- or 2nd-round picks in 2010, then he needs to do so in a sizeable package that will bring back a young, skill player with long-term potential to make the Bruins better, not an aging vet who will give the team a modest increase in talent, but isn't enough to cure a lot of what ails this club.
This draft is considered by many to be pretty deep, and the Bruins' prospects cupboard, beyond the center position, needs restocking. (Although I do think goaltender Mike Hutchinson is a pretty underrated prospect and is a lot better than he gets credit for)
For now, things are looking up, but for how long? The environment around the team when it went through it's 10-game losing streak was miserable, and the Bruins could just as easily go on another extended skid after the Olympics. As the old adage goes, sometimes the best trades are the ones you don't make, so if you're like me and don't see this club being able to get past a team like the Capitals or Devils in the first round without more than just one modest token veteran addition, Chiarelli's best bet may be to sell off one or two of his underperforming players or prospects who don't look like they'll have a chance at cracking the lineup anytime soon for more future assets rather than squander the ones he already has.