Bruins

These teams are most likely first-round playoff opponents for Bruins

Bruins

Just 12 days ago there were five teams within seven or fewer points of the second wild card playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference. A dramatic race to secure these spots was underway post-trade deadline.

Fast forward to Thursday, and the race has tightened a bit. 

There are now three teams within seven or fewer points of the second wild card berth in the East. Most teams have 12 or fewer games left to play, so it's now or never for the Buffalo Sabres (eight points behind), the Ottawa Senators (seven points behind) and Washington Capitals (six points behind). 

Plenty of reasons why an Ullmark-Swayman playoff platoon makes no sense

The wild card race is of particular interest to the Boston Bruins. They own the league's best record at 54-11-5 and, barring a crazy collapse over the final few weeks of the season, will play the second wild card team in the first round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

There are several teams the Bruins could host in Game 1 at TD Garden. Here are their most likely first-round opponents, using The Athletic's projections model.

New York Islanders

Current projection: 1st wild card, 94.3 points

Chance to make playoffs: 75 percent

The Islanders would be a difficult matchup for the Bruins given their well-structured, disciplined and physical style of play. It's the same type of hockey that gave the B's fits in the second round in 2021 when the Islanders prevailed in six games. 

The Bruins are a much better team in 2023 and would be favored to win the series. That said, the Islanders have one of the league's best goalies in Ilya Sorokin. A hot goalie is one thing that could potentially derail what's been a historic season for the Bruins. 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Current projection: 2nd wild card, 93.7 points

Chance to make playoffs: 62 percent

If the season ended today, the Bruins would play the Penguins in Round 1. The Penguins are not having an impressive season. In fact, they've been pretty mediocre. Pittsburgh ranks No. 20 in both goals scored and goals allowed at 5-on-5, while also ranking No. 17 in save percentage. The Penguins made several moves at the trade deadline, none of which were very inspiring. Still, any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin must be taken seriously. The Penguins roster is full of players with Stanley Cup-winning experience, too.

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Florida Panthers

Current projection: Miss playoffs, 93.4 points

Chance to make playoffs: 61 percent

Florida won the Presidents' Trophy last season but has struggled a bit in 2022-23. The Panthers still have plenty of talent up front and rank fifth in 5-on-5 goals scored. Matthew Tkachuk, whom the Panthers acquired via trade last offseason, has tallied 96 points in 68 games. Aleksander Barkov is an elite two-way center and a matchup nightmare, too.

The Panthers are a well-rounded team with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games. They would be a formidable opponent for the Bruins with their offensive firepower. The question mark for the Panthers is goaltending. It's been a weakness of theirs in recent playoff runs. 

Washington Capitals

Current projection: Miss playoffs, 84.6 points

Chance to make playoffs: One percent

The Capitals were sellers at the trade deadline, and two of the players they dealt -- defenseman Dmitry Orlov and right wing Garnet Hathaway -- went to the Bruins. Washington has a lot of playoff experience, including players who were on its Stanley Cup-winning team in 2018, and a very good head coach in Peter Laviolette. 

But this isn't the Capitals team that was a Cup contender for much of the last 15 years. The scoring depth and goaltending are not impressive. Washington is no longer a threat in the East and a long shot to even make the playoffs. If the Capitals barely got in, their run likely would be quite short.

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Ottawa Senators

Current projection: Miss playoffs, 84.3 points

Chance to make playoffs: Less than one percent

The Senators got hot in February, but six losses in their last seven games have dampened their chances of earning one of the wild card spots. Ottawa was expected to make a major leap this season and contend for a playoff berth. A lackluster 6-12-1 start to the season put the Senators in a tough hole to overcome.

If the Senators did get in and played the Bruins in the first round, they wouldn't be afraid of the Original Six franchise. The Senators are actually one of only two teams (the Panthers being the other) that have beaten the Bruins twice this season, and they put up a good fight in Tuesday night's 2-1 loss in Boston.