Nick Goss

Presidents' Trophy race update, first-round playoff scenarios for Bruins

There's a lot to watch over the final month of the NHL regular season.

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The Presidents' Trophy curse is real.

The last 10 winners did not go on to lift the Stanley Cup that season. The Boston Bruins were the latest victim last season when they set NHL records for most points and wins in a season and were upset in Round 1 by the Florida Panthers.

They actually have a decent shot at winning the Presidents' Trophy again, but given the results of the last week, there are now seven teams with a legit chance of taking home this award that no one wants.

It's been a long time since the Presidents' Trophy race was this tight so late into the season.

The important thing for the Bruins is not to prioritize winning the Presidents' Trophy and getting home ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Home ice is slightly overrated these days, and the B's have won just 16 of their last 30 postseason games at TD Garden anyway.

The Bruins' focus needs to be on health and finding the best lineup combinations for the playoffs.

If the Bruins do repeat as Presidents' Trophy winners, they would be the first team to do so since the Washington Capitals in 2015-16 and 2016-17. Six teams have won the Presidents' Trophy in back-to-back years. The first three won the Stanley Cup in the second year. The last three failed.

The Bruins have won the trophy four times and got past the second round in only one of those instances -- 1990, when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.

Here's an updated look at the division race, wild card race and Boston's most likely first-round opponents.

The Bruins likely will finish first or second in the division. Sure, if they really fall off over the last month of the season, they could technically slide to third, but that's pretty unlikely.

So they are most likely going to have home ice advantage in Round 1 whether they win the division or finish second.

The Bruins own the league's toughest remaining schedule, including two matchups against both the Panthers and Hurricanes. Boston's last 10 opponents have a combined .602 win percentage. The Panthers, who have a game in hand on the B's, have just the 21st hardest schedule the rest of the way.

Finishing second in the division and playing the Leafs in the first round might actually be the best possible outcome for the Bruins. They have owned the Leafs for a long time, including an active seven-game win streak thanks to a 4-0-0 season sweep.

The Lightning have won seven of their last 10 games to open up a nice six-point lead in the first wild card spot. It's hard to imagine them falling out of that spot over the next four weeks, and they might even challenge the Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division.

The real race is for the second wild card berth, and there are a bunch of teams in the mix for that.

The Capitals were left for dead entering the trade deadline earlier this month, but a 7-3-0 record in their last 10 games has vaulted them into a playoff spot. The Red Wings have the opposite record over the last 10 games but still remain firmly in the mix. The Islanders have fallen back a bit with a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games, but they are still dangerous.

The New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres could still make a late push, but that seems unlikely. The Sabres have the sixth-toughest remaining schedule, while the Devils rank seventh.

Most likely first-round opponents

The Bruins are projected to finish with 108 points for second place in the division, four points behind the Panthers, per the model created by The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn.

The Leafs are projected to finish with 105 points, making them the Bruins' most likely first-round opponent.

If the Bruins finished atop the division and earned the No. 1 seed, their most likely first-round opponent, per Luszczyszyn's model, would be the Capitals.

If the Bruins finished as the Atlantic winner but not the No. 1 seed, which is definitely possible with the Rangers and Hurricanes playing so well of late in the Metropolitan Division, they could play the Lightning in Round 1. The Lightning are the overwhelming favorite to finish as the first wild card team and play the lesser of the two division winners in the first round.

The Lightning are not the juggernaut we saw from 2020 through 2022 when they went to the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive years and won back-to-back titles. But this is still a difficult team to play against with loads of experience, high-end talent and the best active playoff goaltender in Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The Bruins will get a good look at the Lightning on Wednesday when they're in Tampa Bay on the second night of a back-to-back.

So, to recap, the Bruins' most likely playoff first-round opponents are the Leafs, Lightning and Capitals.

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