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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning rule from atop the Atlantic

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NHL Power Rankings: Bruins, Lightning rule from atop the Atlantic

What was expected all season has finally come true in the past few weeks.

Everybody around the hockey world expected the Atlantic Division to be the NHL’s best with Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto dominating as three of the league’s best teams and each predicted to fill the playoff spots at the top of their division. Well, now the Bruins and the streaking Lightning are sitting at Nos. 1 and 2 and the Leafs are occupying the third divisional playoff spot.

Coincidentally, Boston and Tampa Bay are the top teams in the power rankings this week, too.

It took a six-game win streak for the Bruins to push back into the top spot before their disappointing loss to the Red Wings on Sunday and it’s taken a Bolts team that’s gone an astounding 20-2-1 since Dec. 23 to close the gap on the Black and Gold. Now, they are at the top of the rankings with less than two months to go in the regular season as a Feb. 24 trade deadline looms for both teams to fortify their rosters.

It seems that finally, the Atlantic Division is living up to the hype showered upon it before the season.

 

With Lightning gaining ground, are we in for Bruins-Leafs Round 3?

With Lightning gaining ground, are we in for Bruins-Leafs Round 3?

With their 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning (79 points) are within one point of the Boston Bruins for the Atlantic Division lead -- and the NHL lead for that matter.

After starting the season on a sour note, the Bolts are 20-2-1 since Dec. 23 and 9-0-1 in their past 10. With Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, it's no surprise that Tampa Bay has managed to regroup and gain ground in the standings.

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The B's are set to face the red-hot Lightning twice next month -- with an extremely valuable four points at stake. Those two games alone make it more of a priority for Boston to bolster its depth, specifically on David Krejci's right wing.

Our Bruins insider Joe Haggerty mentioned a few players the Bruins should target ahead of the Feb. 24 trade deadline -- including Chris Kreider and Tyler Toffoli.

Adding those players could become more important if the B's happen to slip to second in the Atlantic. Why? Because the Toronto Maple Leafs are hanging around in third place in the division, which could mean a third consecutive installment of a first-round Bruins-Leafs playoff series.

And even though Boston has eliminated Toronto in their past two playoff meetings, the young Maple Leafs, powered by Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, should be plenty motivated this time around. So, while the Bolts are nipping at their heels, the B's need to continue to hold them off if they want to see an opponent other than the Leafs in the first round. 

NHL rumors: Bruins, Leafs have shown interest in free agent Justin Williams

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NHL rumors: Bruins, Leafs have shown interest in free agent Justin Williams

Justin Williams has not played in the first half of the 2019-20 NHL season, but he could be coming back to the ice soon.

Returning to the Carolina Hurricanes might be the most likely move for Williams, but TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported Tuesday that two other contenders, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs, have shown interest in the 38-year-old forward.

Longtime NHL reporter John Shannon reported the Hurricanes made a final offer to Williams on Monday.

Williams helped lead the Hurricanes to an improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final last season, where they were swept by the Bruins. The veteran forward tallied 53 points (23 goals, 30 assists) in 82 games for Carolina in 2018-19.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

The Hurricanes enter Tuesday with a slim one-point lead in the wild-card playoff race in the East, and they definitely could use the scoring depth and leadership Williams would provide.

The Bruins, who lead the Atlantic Division, need to bolster the scoring production from their bottom-six forward group, and Williams would be an upgrade over players such as Brett Ritchie and David Backes. The Leafs have won eight of their last 10 games, and Williams' playoff experience would prove valuable for a young Toronto team. Williams is the all-time leading scorer (15 points) in Game 7s, and the Leafs have lost their last three Game 7 matchups (2012-13, 2017-18 and 2018-19 to the Bruins).

Teams that miss out on Williams have until the Feb. 24 trade deadline to make roster improvements before the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Joe Haggerty's midseason Boston Bruins report card