The 2013 NHL regular season will conclude on Sunday when the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators play in a game that will determine three of the four first-round matchups in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
The Northeast Division title and the No. 2 seed in the East will be on the line at TD Garden.
The Montreal Canadiens currently lead the division after defeating the rival Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1 at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday. They are one point above the Bruins, and also have the tiebreaker in the event that both teams finish with 63 points.
Which team would benefit more from winning the Northeast and securing the No. 2 seed?
Before we find the answer to that question, let's go over the possible playoff scenarios going into Sunday's game in Boston.
- A win in regulation gives Boston the division title and a first-round matchup with the New York Islanders. Montreal would play the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round.
- A win in overtime or a shootout gives Boston the division title and a first-round matchup with the Senators. Montreal would play Toronto in the first round.
- Any Boston loss gives Montreal the division title. In that situation, Boston would face Toronto and Montreal would play Ottawa in the first round.
For a number of reasons, Boston needs the No. 2 seed more than Montreal. Let's take an in-depth look at why.
Bruins Need Home-Ice Advantage More than Montreal
The Bruins are a much worse team on the road than the Canadiens, so it's important for them to earn home-ice advantage through the first two rounds.
Here's how the two teams compare at home and on the road.
|2013||Home W/L||Home GF||Home GA||Road W/L||Road GF||Road GA|
The Bruins are 3-8-1 in their last 12 games away from TD Garden with an average of just 1.91 goals scored in that span. Boston's record on the road against the top playoff teams is also unimpressive.
The Bruins are a much more confident team at TD Garden, and they have shown in the past that home ice is a huge advantage for them in the playoffs. During its Stanley Cup run in the 2010-11 season, Boston won two Game 7s at home, including a first-round triumph over the Canadiens. Three of their four wins in the Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks were at home.
Over the last two playoffs, the Bruins have won 10 of the 16 games played in their building.
Finishing fourth and not having the home-ice advantage in a possible series versus the Bruins or Capitals wouldn't be a bad scenario for the Canadiens.
They were 3-0 on the road against these two teams this season, which includes an average of 4.5 goals scored in the two games played in Boston. Montreal also scored the second-most road goals and the third-most road power-play goals.
Only the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Chicago Blackhawks won more games on the road than Montreal this year, so the Canadiens will be confident about their chances of winning any playoff series in which they don't have the home-ice advantage.
Boston Wants to Avoid Pittsburgh until the Eastern Conference Final
The Bruins had a lot of trouble with Penguins this season, losing all three of their matchups.
The final meeting was played at TD Garden, where Pittsburgh won 3-2 even though superstar forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and top-four defenseman Paul Martin were out of the lineup. The Penguins also did a great job of getting under the Bruins' skin in that game, which resulted in the B's taking some dumb penalties that Pittsburgh capitalized on.
The Penguins' scoring depth, amazing power play (second-best in NHL) and elite offensive talent makes them a bad matchup for the Bruins.
Which team has the best chance to upset Pittsburgh in the playoffs?
As a team that scored more than two goals in just one of its final eight games and has several top-nine forwards struggling to produce offensively on a consistent basis, the Bruins are not built to compete with a high-scoring team like the Penguins.
The only team in the East that could beat Boston in five or fewer games is Pittsburgh, so it would benefit the Bruins to face the Penguins as late in the playoffs as possible when their strength advantage and ability to wear down teams physically over the course of a seven-game series would play a larger role in the outcome.
Leafs are a Better First-Round Matchup for Montreal than the Senators
The Canadiens' speed and offensive skill were too much for the Leafs on Saturday. Toronto took the season series 3-2, but Montreal won two of the last three meetings.
Leafs goaltender James Reimer was pulled in the third period of Saturday's game, and like many of his teammates, he did not look comfortable on the ice. The Leafs were out-shot, undisciplined, failed to intimidate the Canadiens with their physical play and also turned the puck over way too much.
Toronto lost four if its final six games, including two losses to playoff teams. This club is not playing good hockey going into the postseason, and it doesn't have enough depth to earn four wins against a Montreal squad that has the luxury of rolling four quality lines each game.
The Leafs have too many issues defensively to beat the Canadiens in the playoffs, and even though Carey Price has struggled versus Toronto this season (1-3 in three starts vs. Leafs), Montreal would still have the goaltending advantage in this matchup based on prior postseason experience.
A first-round matchup with the Senators would be a tougher series for the Canadiens because Ottawa has better goaltending, a deeper and more talented blue line and more playoff experience than the Leafs.
Who needs the No. 2 seed more?
Montreal was 2-1-1 versus Ottawa this season, but it averaged just 1.5 goals scored per game. As a team with strong goaltending (ranked second in GAA) and a phenomenal penalty kill (second-best in the NHL), Ottawa is fully capable of preventing Montreal's highly skilled forwards from dominating offensively.
Now that reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson is back in the lineup after missing the last two months with an injury, the Senators will be one of the dark-horse teams in the East because of their impressive goaltending, good coaching, speed/skill at forward and toughness.
The best-case scenario for the Canadiens is a first-round matchup with the Leafs as the fourth seed in the East, which is why hockey fans all over Quebec should be cheering for the Bruins for a few hours on Sunday.