More is unknown than known about the 2021 playoffs right now. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be the top seed in the East division, we know that much. The Washington Capitals are locked in the second seed. The Boston Bruins and New York Islanders have qualified
But that’s about all we know right now. There’s no official start date announced yet, as the Bruins and Islanders meet tonight and then Boston plays Washington tomorrow and the regular season will be complete.
The outcomes of those two Boston games will also determine the Penguins’ opponent for the first round.
The simple way would be if the Bruins defeat the Islanders tonight, in any fashion, or lose in OT, then Boston will clinch the three seed and draw Washington in the first round.
More intrigue happens if the Islanders win tonight, especially in regulation. If that happens, Boston would have to get the win tomorrow against Washington in order to face the Caps again in the first round of the playoffs.
RW (or regulation wins) are the first tie-breaker this season, with ROW (regulation + OT wins) being the second. The Pens holding a ROW edge over the Caps is why Pittsburgh has clinched the division title.
The Bruins could lose both games in overtime and back into the third seed. They could simply win one game and accomplish the same. But even if Boston wins both their remaining games, they’ll tie Washington in points but lose in the RW category and finish no higher than third.
There has been some talk that Boston will be able to “choose” if they play Pittsburgh or Washington in the first round with their games remaining, but that’s a little too presumptuous and inaccurate to assume the Bruins are good enough to “choose” to lose if thy want to. After all, Boston squandered a shot at home ice advantage by losing 5-4 to the New York Rangers on Saturday in surely a game they didn’t want to lose.
It’s more fair and certainly accurate to point out the seeding of the lower playoff teams in the division will be determined largely by how the Bruins play in back-to-back games this week.
As of right now, The Athletic’s playoff model has it as a 85%/15% split favoring Boston to finish third. That number would be drastically different tomorrow morning if NYI picks up the win tonight, which makes this game very meaningful in the scope of how the playoff brackets will be split.
Will is be Pens/Islanders and Caps/Bruins? Or Penguins/Boston and Washington/NYI? We’ll know if at most two days, but maybe even by later tonight.