The New York Islanders and the Bruins will jockey for playoff positioning when the two face off in Boston on Monday night.
The Bruins (32-15-7, 71 points) enter the game a point ahead of the Islanders (32-17-6, 70 points) for the No. 3 seed in the East Division.
The team to clinch the seed will face the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, while the No. 4 club will take on the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins.
Boston has two regular-season games remaining; the Bruins will visit the Washington Capitals on Tuesday in the finale. Monday’s contest marks the end of New York’s regular season.
The Bruins had the chance to wrap up the No. 3 seed Saturday before falling 5-4 to the New York Rangers in a thriller. The teams combined for seven goals in the third period, with a three-goal span over the course of 4:14 by the Rangers proving too much for Boston to overcome.
“Completely surprised. Did not see this coming,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy of the defensive meltdown. “You have to trust your group, to a certain extent, to correct it. And this group typically has.”
Boston twice got within one in the final six minutes, including when Patrice Bergeron scored with goalie Tuukka Rask pulled with 1:21 remaining, but couldn’t come up with the equalizer in having its six-game points streak snapped.
“I think we can learn from that,” said forward Nick Ritchie, who scored his career-high 15th goal in the contest. “You never give up in a hockey game or get complacent. We did that in the third. Definitely a wake-up call for us. We can correct that over our next two games.”
Cassidy said the Bruins intend to play at full strength Monday and might even have forward Ondrej Kase (upper-body injury) available for the first time since the second game of the season on Jan. 16. Cassidy’s current plan is to rest certain players on the end of the back-to-back Tuesday.
While the Bruins faltered against the Rangers, the Islanders took care of business in their home finale Saturday with a 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils. The win snapped a three-game losing streak (0-2-1).
“It’s a step,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz. “… We said we’d worry about our own game, and we did that. We practiced that way yesterday with a lot of purpose.”
Trotz said the Islanders would unsurprisingly prefer to secure the No. 3 seed for the chance to have home ice in the second round of the playoffs depending on their opponent.
“You just want to continue to put as many points as you can up and see where you lie,” said forward Jordan Eberle, who scored his 16th goal Saturday. “We’re expecting to get a good team no matter what, whether it’s Boston, Washington or Pittsburgh. … You’ll have your hands full no matter what.”
The Islanders are 5-2-0 against the Bruins this season.
–Field Level Media