WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins’ remaining regular-season schedule is littered with games I like to call “reaper teams.”
I’m pretty sure I didn’t come up with this, but basically teams like Toronto and Ottawa can feel the death of their playoff hopes coming on and like Blue Oyster Cult sings, they “don’t fear the reaper.” They’re actually looser and ready to play better now that the pressure is off them.
Next up for the Bruins after their five-day layoff Saturday are those Maple Leafs, who have won four of their last five and five of their last seven. As of today, the Leafs’ tragic number, according to NHLPlayoffRace.com, is eight. That means that any total of points squandered by the Leafs (who also play Friday night at Buffalo before hosting the Bruins) and accumulated by the eight-place team that equals eight will eliminate Toronto from playoff contention.
The Bruins know the “reaper games” can be a drag.
“This time of year is when teams that are a long shot to make the playoffs, they always seem to play well at the end of the year and get things going, there’s less pressure,” said Bruins winger Michael Ryder. “I think we’ve just got to make sure we’re ready for those guys to work hard. We worked on those things this week in practice and trying to get our game back to where it used to be. I think we made strides forward the last game and it’s just a matter of us putting it all together.”
The Bruins also have two games remaining with the Senators, whose tragic number is currently nine. But the Sens have won nine of the last 11 outings and are still pretending there isn’t a dark figure with a sickle on their tails. While playing the “reaper teams” might make for some different-looking games — as those clubs take more risks and play with more reckless abandon — Bruins head coach Claude Julien just wants his team to keep it focus on what it can control.
“They might be a little looser with not as much pressure on them. But I still think (the Leafs are) playing fairly well. … I don’t think that we have to prepare differently for any team, except that again — we used to say at the beginning of the year — if we take care of our own game, it normally takes care of the outcome,” the coach said. “And I think that’s what we have to do no matter who we play from here on in. You have loosey-goosey teams that have nothing to lose that become strong challengers. Then you’ve got the teams that are trying to survive that are also strong challengers. And then the teams trying to get to the top, so I don’t think find that this time of year there’s that many easy games.”
The Bruins also have some games remaining against the teams the reaper’s already reached, such as Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders. Those teams could be even looser because they’ve had time to settle into their playoff-less fate. So it’ll be even more important for Boston to not let those clubs dictate the terms of the games.
“Some teams try to gamble a little bit maybe offensively. And that’s gets you in trouble sometimes, if you’re a little lazy, not ready, teams can jump on you. For us, we’ve got to be ready for them to do that and I think the main thing is getting off to a good start and do what we can; not focus on them too much,” concluded Ryder.