After losing the first two games of the round robin, the Bruins have only two places they can finish in the Eastern Conference's seeding: third or fourth.
So while Sunday's round-robin finale against the Capitals will mean more than one last chance to get into a rhythm before the playoffs. It will determine who they end up facing in the first round.
Trying to figure out whether the Bruins should aim for the No. 3 or No. 4 seed is a bit of a headache. After going through the scenarios and for sure getting that headache, it would very much be worth it to grab that No. 3 seed, assuming the current play-in series hold as is.
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If there are no comebacks in the five-gamers, the No. 1 seed would get the No. 12 Canadiens and the No. 2 seed would get the Blue Jackets. The No. 3 seed would get the Islanders and the No. 4 seed would get the Hurricanes.
A potential decisive Game 5 for the Penguins and Canadiens would be Saturday night, meaning that by the time the Bruins and Capitals play each other for third place Sunday, they'll know who awaits the loser (either Pittsburgh or Carolina). Furthermore, the Flyers and Lightning play for first place Saturday, so the 3 and 4 seed would be able to do some light projections as to whom they might get in the second round.
Neither Pittsburgh nor Carolina are desirable opponents, but let's say Pittsburgh comes back and wins. That would mean if the Bruins win and get the No. 3 seed, they get Carolina, and if they lose, they get Pittsburgh.
That's a yucky scenario either way. Pittsburgh, despite not being the toughest matchup for Boston, is a recent back-to-back Cup winner and will have just found life after coming from behind to win their series. Carolina is loaded on the back end, which would be difficult for a Boston team that is rail thin offensively. The Hurricanes can also score, as they were 11th in the NHL in goals per game this season and added up front at the trade deadline. With the way the Bruins are currently playing, that would be a very difficult series.
The Bruins should hope two things happen: First, the Canadiens hold on to sink the Penguins. Then, Boston does the unthinkable and wins a hockey game when they play the Caps. Though there was plenty to like about the Islanders' roster at the stoppage (J.G. Pageau was a good pickup), having seen the Bruins' issues, the Islanders would be a far preferable matchup to getting Carolina.
Really, if the Bruins could get the No. 3 seed, the Islanders could be just the opponent for them in the first round as they get their act together. Like the Bruins, the Islanders are strong down the middle, but they're even worse on the wing than Boston. The Bruins' defense and Tuukka Rask would theoretically handle business against the NHL's 22nd ranked offense while the Bruins try to figure out which wings to assign to centers David Krejci and Charlie Coyle.
A lot can change in the meantime, but there's more to be gained from a win Sunday than learning that winning is indeed possible. The Bruins shouldn't want Carolina (or Pittsburgh). They should want the Islanders and that No. 3 seed.