NHL-leading Bruins can clinch Atlantic Division Thursday
While the Boston Bruins have been running away with the Atlantic Division for most of the season, they can officially clinch a top seed in the playoffs Thursday.
The NHL-leading Bruins will lock up the division's top spot with a win over the Montreal Canadiens Thursday and a regulation loss by the Toronto Maple Leafs against the Florida Panthers.
The Bruins finished fourth in the Atlantic Division last season for the first Wild Card spot, while the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning to face off in the first round. Those two teams remain on a collision course this season, with the Maple Leafs owning a three-point lead over the Lightning for home-ice advantage in the first round with two games in hand. Tampa Bay won the first-round series last year in seven games, despite Toronto having the home-ice advantage.
Boston has already clinched a playoff spot and sit 13 points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes for the Eastern Conference's top seed with one more game played. The Bruins would host the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round if the playoffs started Thursday.
The Hurricanes, who are also second in the Presidents' Trophy race, will lock up their playoff berth with a win over the New York Rangers on Thursday. In the race for first in the Metropolitan, Carolina is two points up on the New Jersey Devils with two games in hand and eight points up in the Rangers, also with two games in hand.
Eastern wild-card race remains tight
The Bruins could face any one of several teams in the first round with the wild-card race appearing set to go down to the wire in the Eastern Conference.
While the New York Islanders and Penguins hold the final two playoff spots, the Florida Panthers are just one point back of Pittsburgh, and three back of the Islanders with a game in hand.
The Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings have fallen back in the race, but all remain within nine points of the second wild-card spot.