The Eastern Conference playoff picture will finally come into focus Sunday, as the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins meet for the final game of the NHL regular season at TD Garden.
Both the Bruins and Senators have already clinched playoff berths, but this rescheduled contest will have significant bearing on the first-round matchups. This contest was originally scheduled for April 15, but was postponed due to the bombings at the Boston Marathon.
Boston will claim its third straight Northeast Division title if it can win this evening's home game. The Bruins enter Sunday one point behind Montreal for the division lead after the Canadiens wrapped their regular season with a win Saturday at Toronto. If Boston only manages to get a point or less in Sunday's game then it will finish fourth in the East and face the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs.
Ottawa, meanwhile, needs only a point in Sunday's game to move up one spot in the East. The Senators are currently seeded eighth, one point behind the New York Islanders, but hold the tiebreaker due to a better record in head-to-head matchups. Ottawa will face top-seeded Pittsburgh in the conference quarterfinals if it fails to get a point and it will take on the Northeast Division champion if it lands in the seventh seed.
Although the Senators can catch the sixth-seeded New York Rangers in points with a win, they would lose the tiebreaker.
Boston has dominated the Sens in recent years and is 4-0 in the series this season. The Bruins have won five straight and 13 of 14 against Ottawa overall and the Senators have dropped two in a row and six of the past seven meetings at TD Garden.
Both the Sens and Bruins were in action Saturday, with Boston dropping a 2-1 overtime decision at Washington and Ottawa losing in regulation against visiting Philadelphia.
Boston led the Capitals by a 2-0 score at one point on Saturday, but Washington notched a pair of goals in less than a two-minute span in the third period to send the game to overtime. Eric Fehr then scored 3:23 into the extra session to lift the Caps to the 3-2 victory.
Milan Lucic had a goal and an assist for the Bruins, while Tuukka Rask stopped 34-of-37 shots in the loss. It was the sixth defeat in the last eight games for Boston.
"I thought we did [have control after the second period] but [the Capitals] came back in the third [period], scored two goals to tie to the game. We had some chances to win the game [but] we didn't and they did," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said.
The Bruins played Saturday without forward Jaromir Jagr, who did not make the trip to Washington due to a bout with the flu. He is questionable for Sunday. Fellow forward Nathan Horton has sat out the last four games with an upper- body injury and is considered day-to-day.
The setback dropped Boston's road record this season to 12-9-3. The club is 16-4-3 on home ice.
Ottawa lost for the third time in four games Saturday, dropping a 2-1 decision to the Flyers, who will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Steve Mason made a season-high 43 saves and Jakub Voracek netted the winner midway through the third to help Philadelphia earn the win at Scotiabank Place.
Kyle Turris registered the lone goal for the Senators and Craig Anderson stopped 23 shots in the setback.
"We want to have a winning atmosphere around here and to do that we need to score more goals," said Anderson. "Right now, that's kind of the way things are going. We're generating chances but not putting them in the back of the net."
Ottawa went 15-6-3 at home this season, but is just 9-11-3 as the visiting team. The Sens have won their last three games away from Scotiabank Place.