The best part of hockey season starts now

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Boy, isn’t this going to be fun?

The NHL playoffs are around the corner, and not one team in either conference knows against which other team it will be playing in the first round.

And there are two days left in the season.

The Boston Bruins, who seem to be the team of choice in these parts, have had an up and down season. They are sitting currently in sixth place, and have a pair of games left over two days: Carolina on Saturday and Washington on Sunday. The Bruins, with 87 points, can finish with as many as 91. That would lock down the No. 6 seed, and could yield a series with Buffalo, New Jersey or Pittsburgh. In fact, taking three points out of the four would secure that for the Bruins.

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Montreal, after streaking into almost a sure playoff berth, is now sweating it. The Habs at at 87 points also, but have just one game remaining. If Montreal were to finish even with Boston, Montreal wins the tiebreak by having more wins.

The fun continues Sunday as Philly and the Rangers collide for the second time in three days. The Rangers kept their hopes for a berth alive with a 4-3 win over the Flyers on Friday, and will have to replicate that feat Sunday to get in. Really, for both teams in that game, a win means they’re in.

But, a Rangers’ loss in overtime or in the shootout, combined with a pair of Boston losses in regulation would still get New York to the postseason, and leave Boston out.

Montreal’s scenario is simple: Any point, whether a win, OT loss or SO loss will put the team in the playoffs, and nothing would be greater for the fans of the bleu, blanc et rouge than to clinch with a win over the hated Maple Leafs, who are set to finish second-to-last overall in the league (a finish the Bruins’ brass loves thanks to a draft pick).

This kind of late-season jockeying is part of what makes hockey interesting to watch all season. There are detractors who will say that 16 teams making the playoffs are too many, but the reality is, it really does separate out which teams are better, and there are legitimate No. 8 seeds who can surprise the No. 1 teams.

The Bruins this season may as well make the playoffs, and at least get something out of a season that has, for the most part, been a series of mistakes and injuries. Otherwise, like a friend of mine always says, the worst position in which to finish is ninth. You don’t get a playoff round, and you get a terrible draft position for the summer. Even squeaking into the playoffs, at least you get that revenue and notoriety.

The hockey jersey collection (I have all active NHL teams but two) gets worn out this time of year, always wearing a jersey in support of a team that would help my favorite team out with a big win here or there, but it’s fun. It’s a great time of year to be talking hockey.

As the weather warms, the game, a large chess game with many movable parts, kicks into high gear.

And boy is it fun to watch.

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