By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins went to bed on Sunday night in the best position they’d been in for quite some time: Second place in the Atlantic Division.
That may only be a temporary stay, however, as the Bruins have played two more games than the Maple Leafs and Senators — the two teams directly behind them in the division standings. Both Toronto and Ottawa will make up one of those games in hand on Monday evening.
But before we get there, here’s a look at the current Eastern Conference standings.
1. Montreal Canadiens, 99 points, 78 games played, 42 ROW
2. Boston Bruins, 92 points, 79 games played, 41 ROW
3. Toronto Maple Leafs, 91 points, 77 games played, 37 ROW
4. Ottawa Senators, 91 points, 77 games played, 36 ROW
1. New York Rangers, 100 points, 79 games played, 44 ROW
2. Ottawa Senators, 91 points, 77 games played, 36 ROW
3. Tampa Bay Lightning, 88 points, 78 games played, 35 ROW
4. New York Islanders, 86 points, 78 games played, 35 ROW
The Islanders are hanging on to their playoff chances by a thread, but they likely lost their captain for the remainder of the season and their hopes are dimming. Meanwhile the Hurricanes are more or less out of it, sitting at 84 points with just four games left to play.
So, as far as the Bruins are concerned, it’s all about Toronto and Ottawa. It’s not that making the postseason via wild card doesn’t count … it’s that making the postseason via wild card means a first-round matchup with the Washington Capitals, who happen to be the best team in the NHL. A first-round meeting with either Toronto or Ottawa is a much more realistic situation for the Bruins’ chances of winning a round.
With that in mind, here’s the scoreboard watching for Bruins fans on a relatively quiet but rather important Monday night in the NHL.
Toronto at Buffalo, 7 p.m. (on NHL Network)
The Leafs are making the quick trip across Lake Ontario to take on the Sabres. The Bruins would really appreciate Buffalo coming through with a win in this one, and there’s reason to believe it could happen. Namely — the Sabres smoked the Maple Leafs just last weekend to the tune of a 5-2 final score.
The Maple Leafs have gone 3-0 since that loss in Buffalo.
The teams are 2-2 against each other on the season, with Buffalo winning March 25 and Feb. 11.
Considering this is the first night of a back-to-back for Toronto, and considering the second leg is a date with Washington, there will be a lot of pressure on Mike Babcock’s team to take care of business on Monday night in Buffalo.
Adding to the intrigue: Buffalo has called up prospect Alexander Nylander, and he’ll be making his NHL debut against his brother, William.
Ottawa at Detroit, 7 p.m. ET
The Red Wings missed out on the playoffs for the first time since the second year of George H.W. Bush’s presidency, but they are going to figure prominently in shaping the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
That’s because the Red Wings have themselves a home-and-home with Ottawa on Monday and Tuesday night. A sweep for either side would likely go a long way in determining the Senators’ ultimate fate.
As recently as 10 days ago, the Senators appeared to be a lock for the two spot in the Atlantic. Yet they went on a road trip, and they’ve lost four straight games. Monday night marks their fifth straight road game, and their drop to the wild card ought to inspire some urgency for the Senators.
After the home-and-home with Detroit, the Senators make a trip to Boston for a head-to-head showdown with the Bruins on Thursday night. The Bruins have to hope that in the meanwhile, Detroit can help with at least one win in the two meetings.
But if both Ottawa and Toronto win on Monday night, it’ll be the Bruins dropping down to the second wild card, with a head-to-head meeting with Tampa Bay on deck at the Garden for Tuesday night.
Regardless of anything else that happened, the big story is this: The Bruins can clinch a postseason berth with a head-to-head regulation win over Tampa on Tuesday. For now, they hope to bolster their chances of getting in to the Atlantic playoffs.