BOSTON (CBS) — The ever-tight East Division found some level of resolution over the weekend, as the Penguins locked up the top spot with their win over the Sabres. Pittsburgh is now locked into a first-round playoff series against whichever team finishes in fourth place.
That position has not exactly been resolved just yet, but it’s close. The Bruins can end any and all suspense on Monday night.
The Bruins enter Monday night’s game against the Islanders with 71 points in the standings. The Islanders have 70. If the Bruins pick up just one point, they’ll clinch the third seed, as they have one more regulation win than the Islanders do.
So, if the Bruins make it to overtime and/or beat the Islanders on Monday night, they will guarantee a first-round series against the Washington Capitals.
But if the Bruins lose in regulation to the Islanders on Monday, then there will be more that needs to shake out.
The Islanders’ season ends on Monday night, so the maximum number of standing points they can reach is 72. Even if the Bruins lose on Monday night, they have one more game remaining to climb past the Islanders in the standings, if they so desire.
But! If the Islanders beat the Bruins on Monday and the Bruins then lose on Tuesday in Washington (when Bruce Cassidy expects to rest many regulars), then the Bruins would finish in fourth place, thus securing them a first-round series against the Penguins.
Of note: The Islanders absolutely owned the Bruins to start the year, winning the first five matchups by a combined score of 17-8. The Bruins have stabilized somewhat in the two meetings that followed, winning 4-1 on April 15 and winning 3-0 the next night. But clearly, beating the Islanders has been a struggle for the Bruins this year, as they’ve earned just six of a possible 14 points in those head-to-heads.
Outside of the third/fourth finish, the Bruins can’t move any higher in the division. Even if the Bruins beat the Capitals on Tuesday, Washington has 28 regulation wins (the first tie-breaker) to Boston’s 25, so moving up and getting home ice in the first round cannot happen for Boston.
Long story short:
–If the Bruins pick up at least one point on Monday night, they’ll be the third seed and face Washington in the first round of the playoffs.
–If the Bruins lose in regulation on Monday night, but win in any fashion (regulation, OT, or shootout) on Tuesday night, they’ll be the third seed and face Washington in the first round of the playoffs.
–If the Bruins lose in regulation on Monday night and lose in any fashion on Tuesday (regulation, OT, or shootout), then they will be the fourth seed and face the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.
As for whether the Bruins would prefer the Capitals or Penguins, that may be difficult to determine. They went 5-3-0 against the Penguins, earning 10 of a possible 16 points in their head-to-head meetings. Against Washington, the Bruins have gone 4-1-2, earning 10 of a possible 14 points, with one AHL-ish type meeting still left to be played on Tuesday.
But with the format of this year’s schedule and playoffs, there is no such thing as an “easy” or “preferable” first-round matchup. More important for the Bruins in the short term is putting together one last solid, complete effort, while getting that final record against the Islanders this year to a more respectable place. If they do that, they’ll lock themselves into the third seed, essentially turning Tuesday night’s game in Washington into an exhibition.
UPDATE: The Bruins beat the Islanders in overtime. Boston will be facing Washington in the first round of the playoffs, with the series starting on Saturday night.