While the Bruins play a round robin against the other three best teams in the East to determine seeding, the Nos. 5-12 teams will be playing to see who makes it to the actual first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The teams and matchups are:
- Penguins (5) vs. Canadiens (12)
- Hurricanes (6) vs. Rangers (11)
- Islanders (7) vs. Panthers (10)
- Maple Leafs (8) vs. Blue Jackets (9)
Given that we don't know whether the Bruins will be the No. 1, 2, 3 or 4 seed, it's possible they could play any of these teams in the first round.
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Are any of them actually scary for the Bruins? Yes, even though none of them should be favored to actually beat Boston. Here's how I'd rank them, in descending order of difficulty:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (5)
3.20 G/G (10th), 2.84 GA/G (12th)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0
I'm not crying for the Penguins having to be here. They could have avoided this by not losing eight of their last 11 games.
Anyway, this is a tried-and-true group that added Jason Zucker and Patrick Marleau (among others; Connor Sheary was also brought back) at the trade deadline. Pittsburgh was clearly going for it this year, only to be run out of a top spot by the surging Flyers.
The Bruins blowing it in the round robin and getting Pittsburgh in the first round would be a worst-case scenario, even though my money would still be on Boston.
2. New York Islanders (7)
2.78 G/G (22nd), 2.79 GA/G (9th)
2019 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1
I'm going Islanders ahead of the Hurricanes because I have more faith in them reaching the field of eight based on their play-in matchup.
Scoring has been an issue for the Islanders all season, but after adding JG Pageau at the trade deadline, they're very strong down the middle (Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson), which we've seen has been crucial for teams making playoff runs.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (6)
3.19 G/G (11th), 2.84 GA/G (11th)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-1-0
Yes, this team looked like a bunch of children in the Eastern Conference Final last year because they... weren't good enough to play in the Eastern Conference Final.
But the Hurricanes, who were fourth in the East in goal differential (better than the Penguins and Capitals), have momentum on their side. They were big players at the trade deadline, adding Vincent Trocheck up front and Sami Vatanen and Brady Skei on the back end, plus — and don't laugh here — Dougie Hamilton was pushing for the Norris before he got hurt this season.
He'll be healthy, making the Hurricanes a decent contender as long as they can get past a Rangers team that swept them in the regular season.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (8)
3.39 G/G (3rd), 3.17 GA/G (26th)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-2-0
Same old story. They can score a bunch and can't defend a lick. Mike Babcock's gone now, which they feel is a good thing, but this isn't the NFL.
You can't just have a great offense and nothing else. Even with the fits they've given the Bruins, I'll always have a hard time taking them seriously.
5. New York Rangers (11)
3.33 G/G (5th), 3.14 GA/G (23rd)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 0-2-1
Offensive dynamo (and recent Bruins postseason nemesis) Artemi Panarin racked up 95 points in 69 games in the regular season. Mika Zibanejad was scoring like an absolute mad man (11 goals in six games!) prior to the shutdown.
Factor in that the Rangers opted to re-sign Chris Kreider rather than trade him at the deadline and you've got an offensively formidable group, but boy does that blue line stink.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
2.57 G/G (28th), 2.61 GA/G (3rd)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-0-0
Was it really Bobrovsky that had everyone all horny last year, or was it Torts and that defense? There sure is a case to be made for the latter, because Columbus was third in the league in goals against despite having people whose names I always have to look up (Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins) in net.
That second-round matchup was a toughie last year, but that team had Panarin. This one does not and it sucks offensively.
7. Florida Panthers (10)
3.30 G/G (6th), 3.25 GA/G (28th)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-1-1
They have star power up front and played the Bruins close in the regular season (two of three meetings went to OT). Yet when they were on the bubble at the trade deadline, they shipped one-time 30-goal scorer Vincent Trocheck (who has either been hurt or underwhelming the last three seasons) to Carolina.
Sergei Bobrovsky has been a nightmare of a signing, posting a .900 save percentage after signing a seven-year deal with a $10 million AAV. He's 31!
8. Montreal Canadiens (12)
2.93 G/G (19th), 3.10 GA/G (19th)
2019-20 record vs. Bruins: 1-3-0
The uniform scares you, sure, but nothing else should. They sold at the deadline, lost 10 of their final 14 games and boast one of the most unspectacular rosters you'll ever see in a "playoff" game.
Also, the Bruins' margin of victory in their four matchups was 11 goals. The Habs have no business playing in this, which is why they probably won't be there long.