Friday, February 24, 2012

Divisional Dates Will Decide P-Bruins’ Fate

The Providence Bruins need not worry about the top dog St. John’s IceCaps for the remainder of the regular season. That statement holds true on two critical fronts in that no other cross-border meetings are on the docket and the Caps hold a solid, runaway, 14-point lead for tops in the Atlantic Division.

The rest of the circuit, though, is comprised of four New England franchises all vying for one of those last two slots in the Eastern Conference playoff picture and all separated by five points entering this weekend.

Out of the P-Bruins’ 22 remaining games, 10 will be against the other three Atlantic mid-to-welterweights, including five bouts with Worcester, starting with Friday’s venture to the DCU Center. (As it happens, another two will be constituted by visits to the Albany Devils, who currently hold the tiebreaker for ninth in the conference by virtue of a better winning percentage.)

The late-starting Sharks, who were 2-0-1 back on Oct. 21 in the wake of taking three of a possible four points from Providence, still have three games in hand as they safeguard a one-point edge for third in the division and eighth in the conference.

The Bruins will combat the Sharks once in each of the next four weekends and once more April 6. But in the three-week interim between that bout at the Dunkin Donuts Center and another encounter March 16, the Bruins will conduct another seven contests to the Sharks’ nine.

Their season series finale with Worcester will constitute the P-Bruins’ fifth-to-last game. The Sharks will have one extra opportunity to seize a two-point package between April 7 and the April 15 conclusion.

In order to not risk bobbling control of its own destiny, Providence will need to take a decisive majority of the points from their next four confrontations with the Sharks. A differential of at least four points gained from the matchup would be the ideal minimum.

On the flip side, the Monarchs, who will host the Baby Bs this Sunday at Verizon Wireless Arena and visit the Dunk once more March 23, have three more points but three fewer games remaining. A pair of virtual four-point victories on the part of Providence ought to instill a little extra sweat to its Granite State rival when the race approaches its judgment phase in April.

But as much as the Bruins need to create and sustain pressure on those two parties, they must also keep their head on a swivel for the No. 11-seeded Portland Pirates. Currently one point behind with one game in hand, the Bucs will engage the Bs three more times (March 11, March 25 and in the April 15 season finale).

And while they are each more than a month away and an extra-divisional card, a pair of visits to the Devils March 30 and April 14 could be worth underlining as well. The aforementioned virtual tiebreaker for the last non-playoff spot favors Albany by virtue of two games in hand.

Accordingly, if the Devils make good of the opportunity to separate themselves, the Spoked-Ps will likely have zero margin for error when they drop in on the Times Union Center.

Either way, with a little more than half of the forthcoming slate consisting of fellow postseason aspirants, Providence has a cut-and-dry choice between inflicting mass adversity on itself or its adversaries.