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Bruins Playoff Picture: B's Move Up In Standings, But May Face Tougher Postseason Path

BOSTON (CBS) -- Though they played just one game, it was a rather eventful weekend for the Boston Bruins.

With regard to what they could actually control, the B's eked out a shootout victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the final home game of the regular season at the TD Garden. Patrice Bergeron scored in regulation and in the shootout, while Tuukka Rask saved 27 shots in 65 minutes of play before stopping all three Toronto shootout attempts to secure the two points.

That was just the beginning of a wild weekend in the Eastern Conference standings, and because the NHL's new-ish playoff system is not always the easiest to understand, here's a quick -- OK, a "quick" -- update to Friday's story.

As a reminder, the top three teams in each division (Atlantic, Metropolitan) make the playoffs, and the two remaining teams in the entire Eastern Conference with the best records get the two wild cards. The division winner in the Eastern Conference with the most points faces the wild-card team with the worse record, while the other wild-card team (the No. 7 seed, essentially) faces the other division winner.

It's less complicated than it sounds. Sort of.

Anyway, here's how the weekend went for the teams whose position directly affects the Bruins.

Detroit Red Wings

The Red Wings entered the weekend holding on tight to the third spot in the Atlantic Division, and they kept it up with a shootout win in Minnesota on Saturday night. However on Sunday, the Red Wings fell to the Capitals in regulation.

Because they couldn't earn a point, the Red Wings remained at 95 points, tied with the Bruins. Yet Detroit fell out of the third spot in the Atlantic on account of Boston owning the tiebreaker (head-to-head).

The Red Wings are 4-8-2 in their last 14 games, and they have three games left: Tuesday vs. Carolina, Thursday at Montreal, Saturday at Carolina.

Detroit is currently in the second and final wild-card spot, one point ahead of the Ottawa Senators. Speaking of whom...

Ottawa Senators

In a shocking turn of events, the Ottawa Senators played a hockey game and actually lost. Of course, the loss came in a shootout, but it nevertheless came as a surprise, because the Senators have been pulling rabbits out of hats for the past week and for most of the past two months.

The Senators did earn two points on Saturday night with an overtime win against Washington, but the shootout loss to Toronto on Sunday kept them out of the playoff picture for the time being with 93 points.

Ottawa has a massively important game up next against Pittsburgh on Tuesday night. If the Senators win in regulation, they can jump back into the playoff picture. After that, Ottawa has two road games remaining: at the Rangers and at the Flyers.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Speaking of free falls, look out below if you're anywhere near the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have lost three straight games and they're 3-8-1 since March 14.

And with three games left to play, they trail the Islanders by three points for the third spot in the Metropolitan Division. That means the Penguins are currently in the top wild-card spot (de facto No. 7 seed), albeit very tenuously.

The Penguins' situation could affect the Bruins in terms of playoff positioning or qualification, as they both have 95 points at the moment.

Following the upcoming game against Ottawa on Tuesday, the Penguins host the Islanders on Friday and travel to Buffalo on Saturday.

The Top Of The Conference

As nice as the Bruins' current position may seem, they're hardly guaranteed of anything just yet. If they fail to earn points in, say, two of their remaining three games, they could find themselves out of the playoff picture entirely. The five-game win streak has helped, but there remains work to be done if they want their season to continue beyond next weekend.

If the Bruins do stay in the third spot in the Atlantic, they will face the No. 2 seed in the division. As of right now, that team is Tampa Bay, but that could change, as the Lightning are just two points behind the Canadiens. Both Tampa and Montreal have two games apiece remaining on their schedules. Tampa hosts New Jersey and Boston; Montreal hosts Detroit and visits Toronto.

If the Bruins don't hold on to the third spot in the Atlantic, they will drop into one of the wild-card spots and will risk falling out of the postseason picture altogether. If they end up being the wild-card team with the worse record, they'll face the No. 1 overall seed in the East. Currently, that's the New York Rangers, who have a one-point lead over the Canadiens (and a three-point lead over the Lightning) but also have two games in hand. (UPDATE: The Rangers won on Monday night, stretching their conference lead to three points with still one game in hand over the Canadiens.) The top seed remains the Rangers' to lose.

If the Bruins end up being the wild-card team with the better record, they'd play the division winner with the fewer points. As of right now, that would be Montreal.

There are still too many teams that are still alive and too many games left to play to really paint a perfectly accurate picture of what lies ahead, but as far as the Bruins are concerned, they still control their own fate. If they win their three remaining games, they're in. Anything short of that could get tricky.

If the season did end today, here would be your Eastern Conference playoff matchups:


1. New York Rangers (107 points, 78 GP)
WC 2. Detroit Red Wings (95 points, 79 GP)

2. Washington Capitals (99 points, 80 GP)
3. New York Islanders (98 points, 79 GP)


1. Montreal Canadiens (106 points, 80 GP)
WC 1. Pittsburgh Penguins (95 points, 79 GP)

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (104 points, 80 GP)
3. Boston Bruins (95 points, 79 GP)

As far as potential opponents go, the list remains the same as it was on Friday: Lightning, Canadiens, Rangers. There's no one opponent that is currently looking more likely than another. That likely won't come into focus until Thursday or Friday.

The Bruins don't play again until Wednesday. In the meanwhile, they can keep a close eye on Tuesday night's Pittsburgh-Ottawa matchup and hope that the Penguins can win in regulation. That result would issue a major hit to the Senators' playoff chances, as their maximum possible point total would be just 97. The least ideal result for the Bruins would be a Senators overtime win, as it would give Pittsburgh a point and further crowd the playoff field in the East.

The Bruins' "easiest" path, and I use that term relatively, still would likely involve facing the Rangers in the first round and therefore moving over to the Metropolitan Division. Such a scenario would pit the Bruins against teams they've handled better in recent years while also giving them the chance of avoiding Montreal. All of that, of course, is putting the cart before the horse, but it's worth considering.

It is, understandably, a bit of a jumbled picture. But if it doesn't make sense just yet, it should all come into focus in the coming days.

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here. You can email him or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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