The Boston Bruins are the class of the NHL.
With a 34-5-4 record entering Wednesday, they have an 11-point lead over the second-place Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division and a 10-point lead over the Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes for the top record in the Eastern Conference.
It would take quite a slump in the second half of the season for the Bruins to give up their lead for home ice advantage throughout the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. That said, the Leafs, Hurricanes and even the Tampa Bay Lightning aren't going away. If anything, those three teams could get even better over the next month-and-a-half if they make upgrades before the March 3 trade deadline.
Here's an overview of where the Bruins sit in the playoff race.
Eastern Conference Standings
- Boston Bruins (43 GP, 34-5-3, 72 points)
- Toronto Maple Leafs (45 GP, 27-11-7, 61 points)
- Tampa Bay Lightning (42 GP, 28-13-1, 57 points)
The three guaranteed playoff spots in the Atlantic are pretty much set.
The Bruins are the overwhelming favorite to win the division and play one of the two wild card teams in Round 1. The Leafs and Lightning will almost certainly be the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the division. Toronto and Tampa Bay could flip flop a bunch of times before now and the end of the regular season, but it's really hard to envision the Florida Panthers, Detroit Red Wings or Buffalo Sabres challenging either team for one of those spots. The Panthers are fourth in the Atlantic with 47 points -- 10 behind the Lightning with four more games played than Tampa Bay.
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The Leafs and Lightning finished second and third, respectively, last season and squared off in an exciting first-round playoff series. The Lightning eliminated the Leafs by winning a Game 7 in Toronto.
The Bruins' path to the Eastern Conference Final is becoming more clear by the day. They'll have to beat a wild card team in the first round and then the Leafs or Lightning in the second round.
- Washington Capitals (47 GP, 24-17-6, 54 points)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (43 GP, 22-25-6, 50 points)
In the mix
- New York Islanders (45 GP, 23-18-4, 50 points)
- Florida Panthers (46 GP, 21-20-5, 47 points)
- Buffalo Sabres (43 GP, 21-19-3, 45 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers (45 GP, 19-19-7, 45 points)
- Detroit Red Wings (43 GP, 18-17-8, 44 points)
The wild card race in the East should be an exciting one. Unlike last season, there are a bunch of teams in the mix. Seven teams are within six points of the second wild card spot. The Capitals have a 4-point lead for the first wild card berth, but they've also played more games than any team in the race.
There are some good teams in this group, too. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are two veteran squads that have won the Stanley Cup in recent years. They aren't true Cup contenders in 2022-23, but they aren't easy first-round opponents for whichever teams win the two divisions.
The New York Islanders are always a tough team to play against with their good defensive structure and aggressive forecheck. Islanders goalie Ilya Sorokin ranks fourth in save percentage (.925) and fifth in GAA (2.30). The Florida Panthers are loaded with talent and playoff experience, too. Star winger Matthew Tkachuk is having a tremendous debut campaign in Florida.
The bottom line is the Eastern Conference playoffs are going to be a really tough grind, and the strength of the wild card teams is a huge reason why.
The Bruins are projected to finish with 64 wins and 137 points. The league record for wins in a single regular season is 62, set by the 1995-96 Red Wings and 2018-19 Lightning. The record for most points in a season is 132, set by the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens.
Boston's record pace could slow a bit, especially if the team wraps up the Presidents' Trophy early and has nothing to play for over the last week or so. Home ice is what matters, not records. No one will care about the Bruins breaking any of those two records if they get bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs.
But even with a small slump -- and every team eventually goes through one -- the Bruins should finish atop the conference.