Chances are, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning will determine who wins the Atlantic Division crown via their two head-to-head games.
First, the Bruins host the Lightning tonight. Next, the Bruins face the Bolts in Tampa Bay on Tuesday (April 3). If one team wins both games in regulation, that could represent a dramatic four-point swing.
[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]
Take a look at the road ahead for each team:
47-17-11, 75 games played, 105 points, 44 ROW
Four home games, three road. Two back-to-back sets.
Thu, Mar 29 vs Tampa Bay
Sat, Mar 31 vs Florida
Sun, Apr 1 @ Philadelphia
Tue, Apr 3 @ Tampa Bay
Thu, Apr 5 @ Florida
Sat, Apr 7 vs Ottawa
Sun, Apr 8 vs Florida
Tampa Bay Lightning
51-21-4, 76 GP, 106 points, 45 ROW
Three home, three road. Two back-to-back sets.
Thu, Mar 29 @ Boston
Fri, Mar 30 @ NY Rangers
Sun, Apr 1 vs Nashville
Tue, Apr 3 vs Boston
Fri, Apr 6 vs Buffalo
Sat, Apr 7 @ Carolina
[Want to look at another stretch run? Consider the West bubble races.]
As you can see, the Lightning lead the Bruins by a single standings point, but Boston holds a game in hand (seven games remaining for the B’s, six for Tampa Bay). The Bolts will find themselves rooting for their neighbors in the Florida Panthers, as they’ll take on the Bruins on two occasions, including a make-up game as the lone game on the final day of the season.
(That could be a real wild-card game. Will Florida and/or Boston have anything on the line that late in 2017-18?)
Assuming Florida stays in the East playoff race, Boston only faces one clear non-playoff team in Ottawa on April 7. The Lightning enjoy a friendlier schedule, with the Rangers, Sabres, and Hurricanes all pondering the draft lottery.
But, again, those head-to-head games are key. Will the banged-up but resilient Bruins gain the edge, or will the slightly struggling Lightning flip the switch? Those two games in one week should be awfully fun to watch, and maybe a useful barometer for two contenders heading into the playoffs.
So, who’s most likely to come out on top?
Sports Club Stats gives the Bruins a 55-percent chance, versus 45 for Tampa Bay. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn provides similar projections (sub required), though the Lightning get a slightly better chance at 47 percent.
Those projections could move erratically, particularly after the two head-to-head matches, though. It might be most fun to throw it out in a poll, then. Vote below and feel free to discuss your stance in the comments.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.