Bruins face tough schedule to end regular season as seeding battle ramps up

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If the Boston Bruins are going to get out of the wild card playoff spots in the Eastern Conference standings and secure one of the three berths from the Atlantic Division, they'll need to overcome a tough schedule to end the NHL regular season.

Boston enters Friday as the first wild card team with a 45-24-5 record (95 points) through 74 games. The B's suffered their third straight loss Thursday night, blowing a 2-0 lead in a 3-2 defeat to the inferior Ottawa Senators.

The Bruins have just eight games remaining before the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin in early May. Six of those games are against quality teams currently in a playoff spot, including the next four on Boston's schedule.

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Here's a snapshot of the Bruins' remaining slate of regular season matchups:

  • April 16 vs. Penguins
  • April 19 at Blues
  • April 21 at Penguins
  • April 23 vs. Rangers
  • April 24 at Canadiens
  • April 26 vs. Panthers
  • April 28 vs. Sabres
  • April 29 at Leafs

It's fair to say that the next week could decide whether the Bruins keep pace with the Tampa Bay Lightning for third place in the Atlantic -- the Bolts have a 3-point lead -- or remain in the wild card spots and risk the Washington Capitals overtaking them in the standings.

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The next four games for the Bruins will be critical.

That stretch includes two games against the Penguins. The B's are actually catching the Penguins at a good time with Pittsburgh having lost eight of its last 12 games. Boston also plays the St. Louis Blues on the road. The Blues beat the Bruins 4-2 at TD Garden last week. The final matchup in that span is a home game against the surging New York Rangers, who are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have Vezina Trophy frontrunner Igor Shesterkin in net.

If the Bruins can survive this stretch, they should have a chance at finishing top three in the division over the final week of the regular season. A poor record during this span could make it really tough for Boston to escape the wild card spots. 

Working against the Bruins is all the injuries that are depleting their depth at important positions. Matt Grzelcyk returned to the lineup Thursday night, but two of the team's top-four defenseman -- Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo -- remain out of action with injuries. It's unknown when they'll return. Boston's top goal scorer, right winger David Pastrnak, also is unable to play and has missed the last five games. It's also unclear when Pastrnak will be back.

The difficulty of the Bruins' remaining regular season schedule reinforces the idea that health is much more important than seeding. Finishing top three in the division and playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round won't mean much if key players such as Pastrnak and Lindholm are less than 100 percent because they returned from injury too soon.

The best course of action for the Bruins to forget about the schedule, not worry too much about seeding and primarily focus on having the healthiest roster possible entering Round 1.

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