The Boston Bruins were soundly beaten in a 4-0 shutout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Tuesday night, but the Original Six club still controls its own destiny for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference.
Boston and Tampa Bay now are tied atop the division and conference with 110 points. The Bolts have a 47-46 edge in the regulation and overtime wins (ROW) tiebreaker, but the B’s have the advantage entering Wednesday because they’ve played one fewer game.
That game in hand gives the Bruins the ability to clinch the No. 1 seed in the East if they take care of business in their final three regular-season games. Boston will play the Florida Panthers on the road Thursday night, then return to TD Garden for a Saturday matchup with the Ottawa Senators and a Sunday makeup game versus the Panthers.
The Senators have nothing to play for and will be without captain and best player Erik Karlsson, so the B’s should win that contest. The Panthers still are in the playoff mix but sit four points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild-card playoff spot in the East. It’s quite possible the Panthers could be eliminated from postseason contention before Sunday’s game.
The choice the Bruins have to make is whether to rest guys and focus on health or try to win these remaining games and secure the top seed. Finishing second in the Atlantic would produce a first-round playoff series with the talented Toronto Maple Leafs — a tough matchup for Boston. Finishing first likely would set up an opening-round series with the New Jersey Devils, Flyers or Panthers. Any of these three clubs would be a much easier opponent than the Leafs.
Given all the injuries the Bruins have battled through this season, a strong argument could be made that health is more important than seeding. The B’s are starting to get healthy, though, with top defensemen Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy returning to the lineup in the last two games, and forward Rick Nash skating again in Boston.
Going for the No. 1 seed makes the most sense for the Bruins. Force the Lightning and Leafs to beat each other up and create the easier playoff matchup with the second wild-card team.
Here some other notes from Bruins vs. Lightning:
— McAvoy returned after missing 15 games with an MCL injury. He played 21:23 of ice time on 23 shifts.
— Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was fantastic in the opening period with 16 saves and zero goals allowed. He gave up four tallies over the next 40 minutes, though. The Lightning’s first goal probably should’ve been saved, but Rask didn’t get much help from his teammates. Boston gave up 17 shots from the slot.
— The Bruins are the only team in the league with a top five power play and penalty kill. The B’s didn’t score on any of their two power-play opportunities Tuesday, but they were successful on all four penalty-killing situations versus a Bolts PP unit that ranks second in the league.
— Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo will not return this season because of a left ankle fracture suffered during Saturday’s win over the Florida Panthers. He is expected to miss three to four months.