With one week remaining in the regular season, there are still a multitude of teams that the Boston Bruins could face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Currently, Boston is in the driver’s seat for home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs, as they sit atop the conference with four games left on their schedule. Boston has a pivotal matchup on Tuesday night with their closest competitor, the Tampa Bay Lightning, who sit just two points back in the Atlantic Division but have one less game remaining to play. The B’s would not clinch the top seed with a regulation win on Tuesday night – which would give them a clean sweep of the four-game season series – but it would make it very unlikely that the Lightning would be able to catch the Bruins.
There are five possible first-round opponents for Boston, as four teams are jockeying for the two Wild Card spots, while the B’s could also still end up in second in the Atlantic Division. Here is how the B’s have fared against those potential foes:
New Jersey Devils (currently holding the last Wild Card spot): 3-0-0
W 3-2 (SO) on Nov. 22 @ NJ; W 3-2 Jan. 23; W 5-3 Feb. 11 @ NJ
On paper, this would be the most advantageous matchup for the Bruins, as they swept New Jersey in the season series. Tuukka Rask was sitting on the bench for two of those three wins, picking up his only victory over the Devils in the regulation win. New Jersey is currently one of the hottest teams in the East, going 8-2-1 in their last 11 contests which has given them a nearly insurmountable cushion in the Wild Card chase. Boston would need to keep a close eye on Taylor Hall, who is seventh in points with 89 (37 G, 52 A), and 19-year-old Nico Hischier, who is one goal away from hitting the 20-goal mark in his rookie campaign after being selected #1 overall in last year’s NHL Draft.
Philadelphia Flyers (currently holding the first Wild Card spot, one point ahead of NJ): 2-0-1
W 3-0 Dec. 2 @ PHI; W 3-2 Mar. 8; L 3-4 (OT) Apr. 1 @ PHI
The Flyers were likely very relieved on Easter Sunday when they saw Rask on the bench, as the B’s starting goalie has been lights out against a potent Philly offense. Rask pitched a shutout in early December on the road, and earned the one-goal win in early March at home in Boston’s two wins over the Flyers this season. The B’s needed another late multi-goal comeback on Sunday to muster out a key point before Claude Giroux ended the game in OT. Giroux has been a force offensively this year, trailing Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler by one assist for the league lead with 66 assists in 79 games. Giroux’ teammate Jakub Voracek is third in the NHL in helpers with 63, and both are in the top 15 in points with 95 and 82 respectively.
Columbus Blue Jackets (currently tied with PHI but holds tiebreaker): 1-0-2
Columbus (1-0-2) – L 3-4 (SO) Oct. 30 @ CBJ; W 7-2 Dec. 18; L 4-5 (OT) Mar. 19
The Bruins’ offense would love to see the Blue Jackets in the first round, as they have scored 14 goals against Columbus in their three encounters. However, their starting goalie probably doesn’t feel the same way, as Rask has allowed more goals to Columbus than to any other team in the league this season. Bruins fans may also not want to see the Blue Jackets in the playoffs for one primary reason: Thomas Vanek. Vanek has terrorized the Bruins throughout his career, tallying 34 goals and 36 assists in 64 games with a preposterous +22 rating (which coincidentally is his career +/- rating).
Toronto Maple Leafs (currently third in Atlantic, BOS would face if they finish second in Atlantic): 1-2-1
L 2-3 (OT) Nov. 10 @ TOR, L 1-4 Nov 11, W 4-1 Feb. 3, L 3-4 Feb. 24 @ TOR
This is a bad matchup for Boston, and should give the B’s even more incentive to push for that top seed in the East. Toronto has the speed and the talent to dominate play for long stretches, which cannot happen during the playoffs. Toronto’s three top scorers are 21 years old or younger, with Mitch Marner (20), Auston Matthews (20) and William Nylander (21) all over 55 points this season. Matthews missed all three Toronto victories over Boston, and ironically was healthy for the B’s one dominant win over their Atlantic Division rivals. Boston vs. Toronto would be a tremendous series showcasing two Original Six teams and two of the youngest and most talented rosters in the league, but it could result in a quick exit for the B’s. It would be much more advantageous for Boston to have Tampa Bay face Toronto in the first round, as the Lightning are 3-1-0 against the Leafs, and the B’s have handled Tampa fairly easily this season.
Florida Panthers (currently seven points behind NJ with five games remaining): 1-1-0 (2 meetings left)
L 0-3 Mar. 15 @ FLA; W 5-1 Mar. 31; Apr. 5 @ FLA; Apr. 8
It is highly unlikely that the Panthers are going to sneak into the playoffs, especially after the debilitating 5-1 loss Boston handed them last Saturday afternoon, but Florida still has an outside chance thanks to having five games in the last week of the season. They will need to defeat Boston in both of their remaining contests, including the make-up game on the last night of the regular season. Florida went 15-3-1 from the end of January to the middle of March, which got them just a couple points away from the last Wild Card spot, but they may have ran out of gas, as they have dropped three in a row and could be eliminated before Boston sees them on Thursday night.
Regardless of who the Bruins face in the first round, expectations are soaring, and there is a huge “buzz” around this current B’s squad. A first-round exit would be a huge disappointment, and a run to the Stanley Cup Finals would not be out of the question for the Bruins.
WE WANT THE CUP!
Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)