A few extra thoughts from the Pittsburgh swing of the Bruins road trip, as we count the days until approximately 4,565 fans (25 percent) will be allowed into TD Garden …
▪ Even the most pessimistic Bruins fans (don’t ask them for their thoughts on Tuukka Rask) probably believe this team will make the playoffs. The Bruins (28-14-6) will play six of their final eight games against teams that entered Wednesday out of the picture: two each against the Sabres, Devils, and Rangers, a run that begins Thursday against the battered Buffalonians.
The Rangers (26-18-6), making a push from fifth place, have won three in a row and are 4 points back of Boston. If anyone is ripe for the picking, it looks like the team down the Long Island Railroad.
The Islanders are 2-4-1 since adding Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac at the trade deadline, and it has not been pretty. They have been shut out three times in that span. Their power play is 3 for 20. Excluding a 6-1 win over the Rangers, they have scored five goals. At 63 points (29-15-5), they’re 1 ahead of the Bruins.
As of Wednesday, six teams — Carolina, Florida, and Tampa in the Central; Vegas, Colorado, Minnesota in the West — had clinched playoff spots. The North and East remain up for grabs. The latter, with the Capitals on top (three straight wins, 68 points to the Penguins’ 67), is the most difficult to project. Put another way, traveling hockey writers are booking hotels in multiple cities.
▪ A senior NHL official said the East playoffs could begin a few days after the original projected dates of May 13-14. Will that be enough time for Brandon Carlo to recover?
The second-pair defenseman, who has played four periods of hockey since March 5 (concussion, upper-body injury), was said to be working out in Brighton during the Bruins’ five-game swing through Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
▪ Happy 35th birthday (Wednesday) to the ever-understated David Krejci, who wasn’t about to puff his chest over his flashy goal against the Penguins.
“You know, one of those things,” Krejci said. “Tried to make a move one-on-one. It worked, so …”
Gee, what a me-guy. By comparison, he gushed about linemate Taylor Hall, who has been everything the Bruins could have wanted.
“He’s fast, he makes one-on-one moves, he’s a pretty strong guy as well,” Krejci said. “He makes things happen. At the same time, the last few games he’s been backchecking really hard. As a centerman, I appreciate when my wings do that. It means I don’t have to do it.”
Let’s set the over/under on “Hall 71” jerseys in Thursday’s TD Garden crowd at 10 (keep in mind, capacity remains at 2,191). You taking the over?
▪ After an excellent game for Bruce Cassidy’s bottom six, questions linger with that group. Was Tuesday a one-off scratch for Jake DeBrusk, or is his status as a regular in flux? Trent Frederic had his legs moving after an 11-game break — does he deserve a spot? What about Nick Ritchie, who was dropped to the fourth line? Should the Sean Kuraly-Charlie Coyle combo get a little more time to cook? What’s the most effective usage for Curtis Lazar?
Though the Bruins always want more from this group (especially Coyle and DeBrusk, who have shown they can bat higher in the order), they do have some solid depth.
▪ Providence defenseman Brady Lyle is showing finishing talent. The right-shooting rookie (6 feet 3 inches, 212 pounds) is tied for the AHL lead in goals by a rookie defenseman (six). Lyle scored his via 27 shots (22.2 percent), while the other two players he was tied with had 53 and 46. He has four goals at even strength.
The Bruins are known for grooming US college free agents, particularly defensemen (Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Connor Clifton). Lyle, undrafted out of OHL Owen Sound, looks like a promising Canadian find by Don Sweeney’s staff. Matt Ryan and Bob Wetick are Boston’s Ontario-based scouts, while Michigan-based Jeff Barratt assists them.
▪ Eagerly awaiting what fresh ideas Turner has for its fledgling NHL coverage. In this viewer’s broad-stroke opinion, the NBC product had become stale, had too serious a tone, and lacked imagination. Rarely were intermission segments must-watch TV.
Splitting some of the marquee with ESPN, TNT will show the Stanley Cup Final in three of the next seven years, half of the playoffs in each of those years, and the Winter Classic. Here’s hoping it captures some of the “innovative, fun, and dynamic” energy, as chairman Jeff Zucker described it, of its popular NBA coverage.
“You can’t just copy ‘Inside the NBA’ on Thursday nights; that comes together over time and relationships,” Zucker said. “We’re going to bring that same approach to the NHL.”
Bring us new faces, smarter analysis, and a looser atmosphere, and we’re off to a good start.