As the NHL readies itself for a resumption of play, the Boston Bruins sit atop the league in points. With the new format, one that includes reseeding after every round, the Boston Bruins playoff run could take on any of the other 11 Eastern Conference teams that qualify. In order from most to least favourable, these are the top teams Boston could face in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Possible Boston Bruins Playoff Opponents
After ranking the most favourable matchups for Boston, these six teams pose the biggest threat to Boston in the postseason.
6) Carolina Hurricanes
In the regular season, Boston faced off against Carolina one time, resulting in a 2-0 victory for the Bruins. Of all possible Eastern Conference opponents, the Bruins played the Hurricanes the least, making them the most unfamiliar opponent.
Boston swept Carolina in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals which would certainly add fuel to Carolina’s fire. The pause in play has allowed top defenceman, Dougie Hamilton, to rehab his injury and will be ready to play when play resumes.
The return of Hamilton will help an already strong defensive team and he will be sure to help on the power play. A healthy Carolina team in the postseason could give the Bruins some trouble if they were to meet.
5) Columbus Blue Jackets
The team that seems to be a darkhorse pick for many. The Columbus Blue Jackets could make some noise when play resumes. Under John Tortorella, Columbus overachieved and surprised many this season.
After losing Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin in free agency, Columbus’s hopes were severely diminished to start the season. Then their hopes diminished again when multiple key players were injured. Despite the key departures and injuries, the players bought into Tortorella’s system and have impressed many.
Columbus hasn’t been the most consistent team this year, but behind a breakout season by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins they’ve been a pain for most teams to play against, including Boston.
In the regular season, the Bruins went 0-1-1 against the Blue Jackets and were outscored 5-1. Thanks to the suspension in play, Columbus will likely get back Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray from injuries.
Columbus is one of the only teams that can say they’ve benefitted from the pause in play. They could be a force come playoff time.
4) Philadelphia Flyers
At the time of the pause in play, the Philadelphia Flyers were arguably the hottest team in the NHL. They were quickly becoming one of the favourites for a shot at the Stanley Cup. However, unlike Columbus, the break-in play could hurt the Flyers more than most.
Any momentum they had would theoretically be gone after multiple months away from the ice. The Flyers had won nine of their last 10 games before the break and were in great position readying for playoffs.
When play resumes, it’ll be time to find out if the Flyers were just on a hot streak or if they had put it all together for real. However, on paper, there are some questions. Goaltender, Carter Hart, has been phenomenal but has no playoff experience.
The franchise has not made it past the first round of the playoffs since the 2011-12 season so a good portion of the team has not experienced a deep playoff run. This year won’t be a traditional playoff run anyways and the Flyers have a chance at the top seed which should help.
Boston went 1-0-2 against Philadelphia this year, with each team scoring nine goals. The Flyers match up well against the Bruins and they could easily cause problems in the postseason.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are one of the most battle-tested rosters in the NHL, have two of the top postseason players of their generation and had a solid regular season.
The Penguins have the championship pedigree and a very strong leadership group to keep the team focused during unprecedented times. Not only that, but they will also benefit from the time off. Forward Jake Guentzel will be back in the lineup when play resumes. Guentzel finished fifth on the team in points despite playing in 39 games before getting injured.
Penguins general manager, Jim Rutherford, said that centre, Nick Bjugstad, could return if the Penguins make a deep playoff run. Guentzel will be a huge boost for the lineup and Bjugstad could be a boost if he were to come back.
In the regular season, the Bruins went 2-1 against Pittsburgh, outscoring them 13-9. The biggest question for Pittsburgh is goaltending. Matt Murray has struggled mightily this season and Tristan Jarry has been strong. However, Murray will get the nod in the postseason.
Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion and has proven he can show up in the postseason. Despite his shaky regular season, he has the resume that gives him the benefit of the doubt when play resumes.
Much like every season for the past decade, the Penguins are not a team the Boston Bruins playoff path would like to cross.
2) Tampa Bay Lightning
This isn’t last year’s Tampa Bay Lightning. This year’s roster is essentially the same except the possess the knowledge of last season. All season long it has felt like Tampa has been playing the long game.
Not wearing themselves out too early and pacing themselves for when it matters. The Lightning finished with 92 points (tied for third-most) and it seemed like a quiet 92. It feels like after last season Tampa won’t be taken seriously without postseason success.
It also feels like the whole organization knows that and they’re on a mission. They’re likely the most complete roster in the NHL. They’re elite offensively, defensively, in the net and on special teams.
In the regular season, the Bruins went 1-2-1 against Tampa Bay. Tensions boiled over in their final meeting of the season, resulting in a total of 94 penalty minutes between the teams.
These have been the two best teams in the Atlantic Division for the past few years. They don’t like each other and they’re both fueled by last year’s playoff disappointments.
It would almost be a letdown if this series went anything less than seven games. This would be the marquee matchup in a Boston Bruins playoff run.
1) Washington Capitals
The last team the Bruins should want to face is the Washington Capitals. The Capitals finished with 90 points and went 1-1-1 against Boston this season.
The Capitals play a heavy game, similar to last year’s St. Louis Blues. Except the Capitals are better offensively, have a goaltender who has been the Bruins kryptonite and are led by the greatest goal scorer of his generation.
In his career, Braden Holtby is 18-4 against the Bruins with a 0.939 save percentage (highest against any team). At one point, Holtby won 12 straight games against the Bruins.
The Capitals are a complete team that can beat you in multiple ways. The Bruins got pushed around by the Blues physical play last year and Washington could do the same thing to them.
Much like the Bruins, the Capitals can run four strong forward lines and three strong defensive pairings. Washington lost early in last year’s postseason while the Bruins went as far as possible with nothing to show. It’s tough to say if the Bruins short offseason hurts them now that everyone’s been resting since March, but it’s a factor to consider.
Alex Ovechkin is a machine that doesn’t slow down. Holtby has shown he can shut down the Bruins. Everything about this matchup causes problems for Boston. It would be a hard-fought series, but the Capitals are the last Eastern Conference team the Bruins should want to play.