“I’ll take NHL Hockey for $1,000, Alex.”

The most annoying and overused phrased in hockey since “net front presence”.

What is “games in hand”?

Correct. Games in hand.

I’m probably not the only one excited that this Bruins bye week is finally killing off the games in hand talk. It used be “Chicoutimi”, “OHL”, and “his pee-wee coach”, that Pierre McGuire would jam into our ears until they bled. Then he graduated to “net front presence”. So I’m happy to see the recent king of buzz words, “games in hand”, going away. It was getting painful to hear.

But regardless of how annoying the phrase got it was a valid topic. Two weeks ago the Bruins looked to be doomed by the gap in games played. In mid-January it was a forgone conclusion that the lowly Atlantic Division would only send three representatives to the playoffs while the Metropolitan would send the remaining five teams. With the Bruins then holding down the third Atlantic playoff spot, simply by having played far more games than it’s fellow division mates, the math seemed to show that when the other teams caught up in games played the B’s would be left in the dust.

Not so fast my friends.

On January 25th here’s how the Bruins looked in comparison to the Atlantic Division teams on their tail for that third divisional playoff spot:

  • Bruins: 51 GP – 24 wins – 54 points
  • Leafs: 46 GP – 23 wins – 55 points
  • Panthers: 49 GP – 20 wins – 50 points

As of today, February 16th:

  • Bruins: 58 GP – 29 wins – 64 points
  • Leafs: 56 GP – 26 wins – 63 points
  • Panthers 55 GP – 25 wins – 60 points
  • Both Buffalo (57 GP) and Tampa (56 GP) sit 6 and 7 points back.

In short, the Bruins dodged a major bullet. In January Toronto had 5 games in hand and were also up a point on the floundering Bruins. Since then Boston has gone 5-2 and grabbed 10 points. Toronto, in that same window, has gone 3-5-2. The Bruins eliminated a 1-point deficit in the standings while playing three fewer games. And Toronto, now a wild card team, has one more game to play (Saturday vs. Ottawa) before Boston resumes play Sunday against the Sharks.

Hell, even the hated Habs were up 11 points on the Bruins with two games in hand just over two weeks ago. Montreal is now only up 6 points with both teams having played 58 games.

Now, it’s still possible that Toronto emerges Sunday morning once again ahead of the Bruins in the standings by a single point. But instead of having five full games in hand on Boston they’ll only have one. The Bruins avoided potential Leafs and Panthers hot streaks that could have buried their season and they should be thankful for that.

The B’s upcoming California trip (Sun. @ SJ, Wed. @ Anaheim, Thurs. @ LA) that’s topped off with a quickie in Dallas (Sunday 2/26) will determine if this team, under Bruce Cassidy, is real. The Atlantic Division teams are largely back to one or two games of each other, the Bruins still sit in third in the Atlantic, they’re a good road team, and the fatigue line that Julien used to sell won’t be valid anymore. Yet I’ve recently written how this Cassidy led 3-game win streak the Bruins are riding is their fifth 3-game win steak of the season. This isn’t something that’s new. But the coach and style in which they are doing it is. 

It’s time to find out, with the gap closing and pressure rising, if that’s the difference this time around.

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