Nick Goss

Bruins have inside track to Atlantic title after beating Panthers

The Bruins are now the overwhelming favorites to win the division.

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BOSTON -- The Bruins took a huge step toward clinching their second consecutive Atlantic Division title with a 3-2 overtime win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

The Panthers took the lead just 37 seconds into the contest as Matthew Tkachuk gathered the puck after a fortunate bounce off the boards and beat Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark. But the B's battled back, tied the score before the first intermission and ultimately prevailed in overtime when Jesper Boqvist beat Panthers netminder Sergei Bobrovsky with a laser beam.

"The physicality of it, the intensity among the players, especially after the whistles, you could tell we're getting close (to the playoffs)," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said postgame.

The victory, which gave Boston a season series sweep over Florida, widens the Bruins' lead atop the Atlantic to five points with each team having just four games remaining in the regular season.

1. Bruins: 78 GP, 46-17-15, 107 points

2. Panthers: 78 GP, 48-24-6, 102 points

The Panthers had 94 points on March 13, three more than the Bruins. They had won 18 of their previous 21 games at that time and looked poised to run away from the Bruins atop the division standings. But the Panthers are just 3-7-2 over their last 12 games, including Saturday.

This slump has allowed the Bruins to retake the lead for the division, and they likely won't give it back. The B's have won five of their last six games, including four in a row. All of those wins came against teams in a playoff spot currently or are fighting for one.

"I think the way we've grown and matured as a team here throughout the year, and how we've been able to win games in the last stretch here -- especially our last three games, against three really high-end opponents. Two on the road, one at home," Montgomery said.

"We don't like giving up that goal, but they have great players, too. (Aleksander) Barkov made a great play to tie it up, but we just kept battling, and that's what I like. We're just sticking with the process, we're staying in the moment, we're on to the next shift. We're not worried about anything good or bad that's happened in the past, we're moving on."

Winning the division is still an achievable goal for the Panthers, but it won't be easy. They do own a 39-35 edge over the Bruins in regulation wins, which is the first tiebreaker. The Bruins could still tie the Panthers in this category but that scenario is very unlikely. Therefore, the best way for the B's to win the division is by avoiding a tie.

The primary benefit to winning the division is securing home-ice advantage through at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. It's a nice benefit for sure, but it's become less and less of an advantage in recent years. The Bruins know that all too well -- they have won just 16 of their last 30 home playoff games dating back to 2018, including losses in Game 2, Game 5 and Game 7 to the Panthers in last season's first-round series.

Here are the remaining schedules for both the Bruins and Panthers.


  • April 9 vs. Hurricanes
  • April 13 at Penguins
  • April 15 at Capitals
  • April 16 vs. Senators


  • April 9 vs. Senators
  • April 11 vs. Blue Jackets
  • April 13 vs. Sabres
  • April 16 vs. Maple Leafs
John Beecher
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Johnny Beecher and Ryan Lomberg get into an altercation during Saturday's game.

The Bruins definitely have a tougher schedule. The Hurricanes, who the Bruins beat 4-1 last Thursday in Carolina, are a genuine contender and could still catch the New York Rangers for first place in the Metropolitan Division. The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are both in a tough fight for the second wild card playoff berth, so they'll definitely have something meaningful to play for over the next week.

The Panthers have only one opponent left that's in a playoff spot or has a realistic chance of clinching one -- the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are trying to hold off the Tampa Bay Lightning for third place in the Atlantic (more on that below).

Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy likes the challenge that the final portion of the schedule provides and thinks it could help his team going into the postseason.

"I think it's good. I'd rather be playing these teams right now with a lot still at stake, whether it's seeding or points," McAvoy said postgame. "Mostly just finding our game is really what's at stake (for us), but doing it against playoff teams is an added bonus."

The winner of the division likely will play the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. The Lightning are projected to finish as the first wild card team and face the division champion with the lesser record. It's still possible for the Lightning to leapfrog the Leafs and finish third in the division, and those two teams do play each other twice more before the regular season ends. But the most likely scenario is the Lightning securing the first wild card berth.

The Lightning are no longer the elite team we saw from 2019 through 2022 that won two Stanley Cup titles in three Cup Final appearances, but they are exactly the kind of opponent you don't want to face in Round 1. Tampa Bay has a ton of offensive skill, a great penalty kill and a goalie who's a proven postseason performer. That roster also is loaded with championship experience and is well coached.

A series against the Lightning would be really tough for the Bruins. A Round 1 matchup versus the Leafs would be far more advantageous for Boston. But you can only play who's in front of you, and the matchups aren't final yet.

The most important priorities for the Bruins over the final four games should be health and improving some of the weaknesses in their game (such as the power play) before Game 1 of the first round arrives.

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