You only need lock at possible play-off opponents to realise the Boston Bruins might actually be better off if they were to finish second in the Atlantic Division.
Now of course, we’re not saying that the Boston Bruins should simply allow the Tampa Bay Lightning to pass them in the standings. What we’re saying is if that were something that happened, it wouldn’t be the worst thing.
As it stands right now, the Boston Bruins would face the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. That isn’t necessarily the most daunting prospect unless you take a slightly deeper look at the standings.
The Blue Jackets are in fact a better team led lately by rookie goaltender Elvis Mezlerkins, than the third-place in the Atlantic, who would be the Bruins’ opponent if they themselves finished second.
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Columbus sit, at this moment, on 76 points compared to the Toronto Maple Leafs on 74. Granted, there is one game difference between the two teams in the Blue Jackets’ favor, but simply put they have been slightly more consistent all year round.
We have, in fact, lost to the Blue Jackets both times we’ve played them this season. Toronto, on the other hand, we’ve down two out of the three times’ we’ve faced them.
You could make the argument that we know what we’re up against when it comes to the Maple Leafs given the number of play-off match-ups with them in recent years, but we did also play in Columbus last year, albeit in the second round.
As a warm-up to a likely second-round game with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Maple Leafs would surely be preferred. Their offense-driven game is a closer match to the Lightning than Columbus’ style that is predicated on stronger defense.
Another factor here is that Columbus will be fighting hard to retain their second wild-card spot. The Hurricanes, Rangers and Panthers are all breathing down their neck, especially with more games left to play for each of those challengers.
Speaking of which, that third place in the Atlantic could just as easily fall to the Florida Panthers, who sold off one of their centers at the trade deadline in Vincent Trocheck. That move has hardly made them a more formidable potential opponent.
It would be great if the Boston Bruins went out there and won the Presidents Trophy but there would be no shame in coming second and facing a slightly easier match-up.