The Bruins put the finishing touches on another season of domination over Ottawa with Thursday’s 3-1 win. But did they deny themselves a chance of continuing that lopsided rivalry in the playoffs with that victory?
It has seemed almost preordained in recent weeks that the Bruins and Senators were destined to clash in the No. 2 vs. No. 7 matchup in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins did their part by locking up the No. 2 seed last Sunday, when they clinched the Northeast Division title with a win over the top-seeded Rangers in New York.
But Ottawa, despite clinching a playoff berth, is suddenly struggling to secure the seventh spot. The Senators are now battling Washington for that spot, with Florida also factoring into the race. The Capitals clinched the final playoff berth in the East on Thursday with a 4-2 win over Florida, and Buffalo losing 2-1 to Philadelphia to eliminate the Sabres.
The Senators (41-30-10, 92 points) now need to get at least a point in their final game Saturday at New Jersey or for Washington (41-32-8, 90 points) to lose Saturday against the Rangers to stay in seventh and face Boston in the opening round. If the Senators lose and Washington wins, the Bruins could face the Capitals instead.
Unless, of course, Florida (37-26-18, 92 points) also loses in regulation to Carolina on Saturday, which would give Washington the Southeast Division title and the third seed. That would keep Ottawa in seventh with Florida dropping all the way to eighth, as Ottawa holds the tiebreaker against the Panthers by virtue of more regulation and overtime wins. Washington, in turn, holds that same tiebreaker over Ottawa, and if all three teams finish tied with 92 points, the Capitals would be seeded third, Ottawa seventh and Florida eighth.
Confused yet? Bruins coach Claude Julien avoided discussing the potential for Thursday’s game in Ottawa to be a playoff preview before the contest, and stuck with that approach even after the win. Julien noted there isn’t much left to learn about rival teams at this point of the season anyway, except which one the Bruins will end up playing in the first round. And that won’t be known until after Saturday’s games on the final day of the season.
“I think over the course of a season you know teams pretty well,” Julien said. “I don’t think there’s that many secrets left, with video and all that goes on there’s not that many secrets. It’s more about tactics and how you’re going to approach the playoffs.
“That’s one of reasons why I didn’t want to talk about it this morning, because we still don’t know,” Julien added. “It could be a variety of three teams right now. It could be Florida. It could be Washington. It could be Ottawa. So we’ve got some other teams on our radar as well. Once it’s decided, we’ve just got to be ready for them.”
The Bruins certainly appear ready for the Senators. Boston is 19-5-0 against them in the last four seasons, including an 11-1-0 mark in Ottawa. But are the Senators ready to get the point they need on Saturday to give Boston the chance to see if that domination will carry over to postseason play?