There are only six days remaining in the regular season but many questions are left to be answered in the Eastern Conference. The number of potential playoff teams has been narrowed to just nine but aside from the Pittsburgh Penguins securing the number one seed, no one’s position is guaranteed.
The race for the Northeast Division title and second overall throughout the playoffs has been reduced to a snail’s pace. Since the Montreal Canadiens clinched a playoff berth with a dominating win over the Buffalo Sabres on April 11th, they have just one win in five games, suffering four of there worst defeats of the season. The Habs have allowed 23 goals in the four losses and have failed to solidify themselves atop the division.
Fortunately for the Canadiens, while they struggled, so too have the Boston Bruins. The Bruins have also lost four of their last five, only defeating the lowly Florida Panthers over that span. A couple of more wins by either team over the last five games and the division race is all but sewn up at this point. The two rivals are currently tied for the division lead with 59 points, however the Bruins have played one less game.
As a matter of fact, Boston and Montreal struggling has left a window of opportunity open for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though unlikely, if the Leafs can win their remaining three games and the Bruins and Habs continue to struggle, Toronto could come away with their first division title since 2000. With just three games to play, the Maple Leafs trail both Boston and Montreal by four points but hold the first tiebreaker over both teams due to their high number of ROW (regulation plus overtime wins.)
Things in the Northeast Division will become a little more clear this evening as Boston and Montreal are both in action. With the most games left to play, the Boston Bruins perhaps hold the advantage with so little time remaining in the regular season.
The Bruins travel to Philadelphia tonight to face the 12th seed in the East before returning home to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning who hold the second worst record in the East. Things become tougher for the Bruins over the weekend as they travel to Washington to take on the Southeast Division leading Capitals who have been hot of late. On Sunday evening the Bruins close out the regular season as they host the Ottawa Senators who are battling to hold on to one of the final playoff seeds in the conference.
The Montreal Canadiens finish their schedule with three straight road games. This may be for the best given their recent struggles and a fantastic road record this season. It begins tonight in New Jersey against the Devils who have recently been eliminated from playoff contention. The Habs then enter hostile territory on Thursday night when they travel to Winnipeg. The Jets have been flying high recently as they push furiously to make the postseason. It will be the Jets final game of the season and they will be looking to give their home fans something to cheer for as they hope to clinch a playoff berth. The Canadiens final game comes Saturday night against the Maple Leafs. Montreal has not been at their best when facing Toronto this season, losing three of four meetings.
The Leafs will need to win all three of their remaining games and still receive some help if they are to win the division. Winning out their schedule may not be as difficult as it would seem. Toronto travels to Florida where both teams they face have been very kind to visiting teams this season. Toronto will face the Lightning on Wednesday night and the Panthers on Thursday. The two Florida teams are the bottom two teams in the Eastern Conference and have both long since been eliminated from any playoff scenario. After their Florida vacation, the Leafs return home to take on the Habs who they have dominated all season.
With so few games remaining before the playoffs begin and so much left to be decided, it is going to be a fascinating finish to the regular season. Winning the Northeast Division assures the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference and a much more favorable matchup in the first round of the playoffs. After three months of hockey, the winner of the division will be decided by whoever is the hottest team over the next six days.