East playoff picture gets clearer with Penguins win, Bruins loss

Penguins East Division
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[UPDATE: Predators clinch playoff spot; Penguins, Maple Leafs win division titles]

The playoff race in the NHL’s East Division got a little more clarity on Saturday afternoon with the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 1-0 win over the Buffalo Sabres and the Boston Bruins’ 5-4 loss to the New York Rangers.

What do the results mean for each team? It is pretty simple as it relates to the top spot.

The scenarios

• The Penguins’ win and the Bruins’ loss means Boston can NOT win the East Division. The Bruins can finish no higher than second place as they will not be able to match the Penguins’ 77 points in the standings.

• The Bruins remain two points back of the second place Washington Capitals for the second spot and home ice advantage in the first round. Both teams have two games remaining, including a head-to-head matchup on Tuesday that could determine seeding.

• Speaking of which, the Penguins win in regulation on Saturday guaranteed that they will have home-ice advantage in at least the First Round of the playoffs as they will finish no lower than second place in the standings. The only thing that remains to be decided if they will finish in first or second place, and the outcome of the Capitals’ next two games will decide that.

• If the Capitals win their remaining two games (against Philadelphia on Saturday night and against Boston on Tuesday) in regulation the Capitals will win the division. But if the Capitals lose either game, or do not win both in regulation, the regular season division title will belong to the Penguins.

• If the New York Islanders lose either of their remaining two games (or if Boston wins either of its games) they will be locked in the fourth spot.

So that is where things stand heading into Saturday evening.

Bruins lose thanks to “uncharacteristic third period

The Bruins held a 2-1 lead early in the third period on Saturday but allowed four goals to the Rangers over the final 18 minutes of regulation in what was one of their sloppier periods of the season. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy called “uncharacteristic” of the team, and added “I think everyone can take their share of responsibility for the way we played in the third period.”

The loss snaps what had been a six-game point streak (5-0-1) for the Bruins. It is just the Bruins’ third regulation loss in the past 15 games.

The Rangers, meanwhile, were able to end their regular season on a high note by snapping a five-game losing streak. Mika Zibanejad scored two goals in the win to finish the season strong after a slow start, while his second goal was the 200th of his career.

Rookie Alexis Lafrieniere also scored a goal in the win to give the No. 1 overall pick 12 goals in is debut season.

Vitali Kravtsov, one of the other promising rookies on the Rangers team, scored his second goal of the season in the win.

Surprising star for Penguins

As for the Penguins’ win over Buffalo, it was third string goalie Maxime Lagace that stole the show by making 29 saves to record his first career shutout, and his first win in the NHL since the 2017-18 season.

He started Saturday’s game with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith dealing with minor injuries (both will be ready for the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs).

Jeff Carter continued his strong play for the Penguins by scoring the game’s only goal, giving him nine goals in 14 games with the team since being acquired from the Los Angeles Kings just before the NHL trade deadline. He now has 399 goals for his career.

The Penguins got a bit of a scare in the third period when Evgeni Malkin was involved in a collision in the neutral zone with Buffalo’s Dylan Cozens and only played one shift after. Malkin just returned to the lineup four games ago after an extended absence due to injury. Coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Malkin thought he tweaked something, but felt fine. He was held out for precautionary reasons and is expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs.

Sullivan also added that the Penguins will be getting their second vaccine dose on Saturday night and will eclipse the 85% threshold for the NHL’s relaxed COVID protocols for the playoffs.

The Penguins will now wait to see the results of the Capitals remaining games against Philadelphia (Saturday night) and Boston (Tuesday night) to see whether they will be the first or second seed in the East Division playoffs.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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