Nick Goss

Playoff race update: Plenty of scenarios still in play for Bruins

It's going to be a fun final week of the NHL regular season.

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We've reached the final week of the 2023-24 NHL regular season, and there are still lots of different playoff scenarios in play for the Boston Bruins and many other teams.

The only certainties right now are as follows:

  • The Toronto Maple Leafs have clinched third place in the Atlantic
  • The Tampa Bay Lightning are the first wild card team
  • The Dallas Stars have clinched the Central division title

Every other team in the mix, whether it's in a playoff spot right now or just outside of one, could still move up or down at least one spot in the standings over the next few days.

The Bruins could finish first or second in the Atlantic and even win the Presidents' Trophy again. They could play the Leafs, Lightning or one of the four teams still in the hunt for the second wild card spot.

Here's an updated look at the Presidents' Trophy race, Atlantic division race, wild card race and Boston's most likely first-round opponents entering Monday, April 15.

The Bruins are still mathematically in contention for the Presidents' Trophy, but it's pretty unlikely that they will win it for the second straight year. The B's need to win their final two games and have the Rangers lose their last game in regulation.

Even if that scenario unfolds, the Stars and Hurricanes could still finish ahead of the Bruins. Another important factor is the regulation wins tiebreaker. The Rangers (42), Stars (40) and Hurricanes (43) all have more regulation wins than the Bruins (36). This means the Bruins cannot win a tiebreaker for the Presidents' Trophy, so they'll need to finish ahead on points to claim it.

The Bruins need two more points to clinch the division. The Panthers can finish with as many as 110 points, and they also have a wide lead in regulation wins (41 to 36), which is the first tiebreaker. The Bruins won't need any more points if the Panthers lose their final game Tuesday against the Leafs in regulation.

The Atlantic Division winner likely will play the Lightning in the first round. The Bruins can still win the Presidents' Trophy and play the second wild card team. The Panthers cannot catch the Rangers in the Presidents' Trophy race.

The Leafs are locked into third place in the division and will face the second-place team in Round 1. Toronto played Florida in the second round last season and lost in five games. Those two teams likely will face off in the first round this year.

The Lightning are locked in to the first wild card spot and will play the division winner with the lesser record (currently the Bruins).

The real race is the second wild card spot. It's the most interesting playoff race remaining with four teams still in the mix for one spot. The Penguins have the most regulation wins (31) of the four teams. The Flyers and Capitals have 30, followed by the Red Wings (27). The Penguins and Capitals could still catch the New York Islanders (90 points) for third place in the Metropolitan Division, but the Flyers cannot.

Here are the remaining schedules for each team:

  • Capitals: vs. Bruins, at Flyers
  • Red Wings: vs. Canadiens, at Canadiens
  • Flyers: vs. Capitals
  • Penguins: vs. Predators, at Islanders

Tuesday's showdown between the Capitals and Flyers in Philadelphia will play a huge role in the outcome of this wild card race. The Capitals are the only team of the four that controls its own destiny. Two wins in any fashion for Washington will clinch at least the second wild card berth.

Most likely first-round opponents for Bruins

The most likely first-round opponent for the Bruins is still the Lightning. This scenario happens if the Bruins win the division and play the first wild card team in Round 1. The Bruins could still drop to second in the Atlantic and play the Leafs, which would be a much better matchup for Boston considering it has a seven-game win streak vs. Toronto.

For a Bruins-Leafs matchup to happen, the Panthers would need to finish ahead of the Bruins or tie them in points since they own the regulation wins tiebreaker. The scenarios where the Bruins drop to second are pretty unlikely, though, and would require losses (including at least one in regulation) over Boston's final two games.

The Bruins could also win the Presidents' Trophy and play either the Capitals, Flyers, Penguins, Red Wings or Islanders in the first round. All five of those teams represent a more favorable first-round matchup than the Lightning, although neither of those potential series would be a cakewalk for Boston.

The Bruins could also not win the Presidents' Trophy and still finish first in the East. If the Rangers lose their final game in regulation and the Hurricanes take just one point (or zero) from their final game, the Bruins could leapfrog both of them by winning their final two games. In that scenario the Bruins would have 113 points, while the Rangers have 112 and the Hurricanes have 112 or 111.

The Stars, who have one more game, could also finish with 113 points and tie the Bruins. Dallas owns the Presidents' Trophy tiebreaker over Boston with more regulation wins. So there's an unlikely scenario where the Bruins finish first in the East, play the second wild card team, but don't claim the Presidents' Trophy (and the award's curse!).

However, the chances of the Bruins finishing first in the conference and playing the second wild card team in any scenario are pretty low.

The Bruins probably will play the Lightning in Round 1, but it's still not set in stone. It should make for a fun couple of days as the regular season winds down.

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