The Stanley Cup Playoffs are right around the corner as the Boston Bruins’ regular season winds down with their final three regular-season games this week.
Currently holding down the first wild-card slot, the Bruins would play the Metropolitan Division winner if the standings remain as is. The Carolina Hurricanes have a four-point lead over the New York Rangers for the top Metro spot.
However, the B’s could surpass the Tampa Bay Lightning for the third spot in the Atlantic as the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions are three points up on the Bruins. Grabbing that No. 3 position would likely set up a meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which sit in second in the Atlantic.
The final possible matchup for the Bruins would be the Florida Panthers. If the Washington Capitals or Pittsburgh Penguins pass the B’s and take over the first wild-card spot, Boston would face off against the top team in the Eastern Conference. The Capitals trail by three points in the standings, while the Bruins hold a two-point cushion over the Pens, who sit third in the Metro but could bump down to a wild card spot with just a mere one-point advantage over Washington.
With all eight playoff teams securing at least 100 points for the first time ever, the Bruins will undoubtedly have a tough first-round matchup ahead. Here’s a quick breakdown of their four potential opponents for Round 1.
Let’s begin with the most probable opponent.
The Hurricanes have had a tremendous season as they’ve paced the Metro for much of the year, before recently running into a bit of injury trouble.
Both Freddie Andersen and Anti Raanta went down with injuries in the past week, but it appears the pair will be ready to go for the postseason, according to The Athletic’s Sara Civian.
The status of their goalies will play a significant role in the Hurricanes’ chances, as relying on unproven youngsters is a game-changer, especially when it comes to netminders.
The Bruins will have quite the challenge if Carolina ices a healthy lineup. The Hurricanes handled the B’s rather easily in the regular season, outscoring them by a whopping 16-1 margin during their three-game series.
The Hurricanes sport a very balanced lineup with four well-rounded forward lines and three solid defensive pairings. They would seem to give the Bruins the most trouble out of the four potential opponents.
Add in the fact that the B’s eliminated the Hurricanes in two of the past three postseasons, and it’s safe to assume that Carolina will do just about everything in its power to avoid another elimination from Boston.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Now this would be something, wouldn’t it?
Toronto and Boston are quite familiar with each other in the first round as the Bruins have had the edge in the past three showdowns.
On one hand, the Bruins should feel confident against an opponent they’ve taken care of multiple times previously. But on the other hand, the Leafs will eventually figure it out … right?
The usual suspects up front are playing well for Toronto in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares. But they’ll enter another postseason with significant questions surrounding its defense and goaltending.
The Leafs acquired arguably the biggest name at the trade deadline in Mark Giordano, who has fit in seamlessly on the backend, yet still boasts erratic goaltending in Jack Campbell and Erik Kallgren.
Slowing down Toronto’s firepower will be the biggest challenge for the B’s. However, the Bruins’ overall defensive structure should help ease Toronto’s potent attack in a seven-game series.
Fans will get one last look at the possible matchup on Friday when the Bruins and Leafs will square off in the regular-season finale in Toronto. The Leafs have already beat the B’s twice this season.
New York Rangers
Of all the potential first-round opponents, the Rangers appear to be the best matchup for the Bruins.
While the Blueshirts are five points clear of the B’s in the standings, Boston showed it is more than capable of hanging with the Rangers following Saturday’s 3-1 victory.
In three games this year, the Bruins took three of six points against New York. The lone regulation loss came on Black Friday in a contest the Rangers tallied a trio of third-period goals.
The Rangers exceeded expectations under first-year head coach Gerard Gallant after qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2017. A career year from Chris Kreider (51 goals) and stellar numbers from goalie Igor Shesterkin (first in goals-against average and save percentage) helped steer the Rangers from the basement of the Eastern Conference to the second spot in the Metro.
Still, a good chunk of New York’s roster, including its star netminder, have never suited up for a playoff game. The B’s will have an advantage when it comes to postseason experience, and that could become a difference-maker in a potential first-round matchup.
The Bruins will get their last look at the Panthers on Tuesday when the projected President’s Trophy winners make their way to Causeway St.
The B’s are 1-1 against Florida this season, but the last meeting was all the way back on Oct. 30. Since then, the Panthers have bombarded their way through nearly the entire league with an eye-opening plus-100 goal differential.
Florida scooped up Claude Giroux at the deadline, and the veteran center has complimented an already loaded offense bunch well with 22 points in 17 games.
Despite all that, the Panthers are in a similar position to the Leafs in terms of postseason success. The last time Florida advanced past the first round was in 1996 when they fell in the Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche.
Sergei Bobrovsky remains a wild card. The Russian goaltender has played well throughout the 2021-22 campaign but has a history of falling apart suddenly and spectacularly. The B’s last met ‘Bob’ during the 2019 playoffs when they faced Columbus in the second round, en route to a 4-2 series win.
There’s no doubt the Panthers would be the opposite of an easy out. But a dominant team in the regular season doesn’t always embark on a successful playoff run. Just ask the 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning.
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