There weren’t a ton of playoff-relevant games for the Eastern Conference tonight, yet it seemed like the big ones had some awfully interesting ripple effects. The number one theme was that it was a good night for idle teams, but here’s a roundup of what happened.
Idle Bruins clinch
The second seed isn’t a guarantee yet for the Boston Bruins, but another playoff berth is. They didn’t play on Friday but the Pittsburgh Penguins made it official when they beat the Buffalo Sabres in a 5-3 game that had a playoff atmosphere, according to Dan Bylsma via Mike Harrington.
Perhaps an even better night for the Capitals
The good news for Boston and the Washington Capitals more-or-less intertwined tonight, which is amusing (and telling of the stretch run’s whims) since they were going toe-to-toe on Thursday. Obviously, that Sabres loss is the biggest deal for the Capitals since it places Washington in eighth and Buffalo in ninth place for tiebreaker reasons – each team now has four games left – but it’s also big for the purpose of higher aims.
Considering the Florida Panthers’ surprising recent struggles, a Southeast Division title bid isn’t totally out of the question for the Capitals. The gap is now four points and Washington actually holds tiebreakers there, too – plus they’ll host what could be a huge game between the two teams on April 5.*
So yeah, tonight’s biggest winners didn’t even play. Let’s move on to the active ones that are left, though.
Time is running out for Penguins
There are plenty of good things for Pittsburgh to take from Friday. They beat the Sabres 5-3. Sidney Crosby became the seventh-youngest player to reach the 600-point plateau while Pascal Dupuis extended the NHL’s best points streak of the season to 13 games. (Click here for that story.)
Still, it’s looking likely that they’ll need to carry all their positivity into a challenging first round series against the formidable Philadelphia Flyers. The New York Rangers maintained their Atlantic Division/Eastern Conference lead at five points thanks to a demonstrative 4-1 victory against the Montreal Canadiens.
An April 5 meeting could shave that difference down to three points if Pittsburgh wins in regulation, but the Rangers hold the tiebreaker advantage and each squad only has three games remaining aside from that. It’s rarely safe to assume anything in this crazy stretch run, but the Blueshirts’ odds of winning the East’s top seed are extremely high.
In fact, their biggest competition might be for the Presidents’ Trophy. They took a one-point lead over the idle St. Louis Blues for that award today, so it wasn’t a great night for idle teams in every way.
(Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the Carolina Hurricanes are officially eliminated from playoff contention. If only they had more time …)
* – To extend the good for Washington and Boston talk, a weaker Southeast naturally makes it that much more likely for the Bruins to grab the second seed.