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What will it take for the Bruins to clinch home ice in the first round?

There may be just 3 games left, but there’s plenty of uncertainty.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Boston Bruins - Game Seven Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

It’s been all but certain for weeks now, but last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs officially locked up a first-round date with the Bruins by virtue of a win over the Islanders.

We know that the Bruins and Leafs will play each other when the playoffs kick off a week from tomorrow or Thursday, but there’s still a big question mark: who is going to have home ice in the first round?

As of Tuesday morning, both the Bruins and Leafs have played 79 games. The Bruins have a four-point cushion on Toronto for second place in the Atlantic and home ice in the first round.

Can the Bruins clinch home ice tonight?

Yes, but not solely on their own merit. If the Bruins beat Columbus tonight, they would need Toronto to lose to Carolina in any fashion in order to clinch home ice.

A Bruins win combined with a Toronto OT or shootout loss would give the B’s a five-point cushion, while a Bruins win combined with a Toronto regulation loss would give the B’s a six-point cushion. Both of these would be insurmountable with just two games left.

If the Bruins and Toronto both win, we’ll be in the same position heading into Thursday night as we find ourselves in now.

The Bruins could actually clinch home ice with a loss too, oddly enough. It wouldn’t feel great, but a Bruins OT or shootout loss combined with a Toronto regulation loss would do the trick.

What happens if they don’t clinch tonight?

As of Tuesday morning, the Bruins need some combination of 3 points coming from either Toronto losses or Boston wins over their final 3 games in order to lock up a spot.

A 3-point swing would be enough to put a gulf between the two teams that Toronto couldn’t close with the games remaining.

For example, if the Bruins lose in OT tonight (+1 point earned) and Toronto loses in a shootout (+1 left on the board by the Leafs), the Bruins would need to find a single point over their last two games to clinch. That point could come in a Bruins win or OT/SO loss, or in any kind of Toronto loss.

What happens if the Bruins keep losing?

It’s probably obvious, but things get dicey. Toronto winning out and the Bruins losing out would put the Leafs 2 points clear.

If Toronto wins out and the Bruins take two points in their last three games, the teams would be tied at 105 points; however, Toronto currently has one more regulation/overtime win (ROW), which is the first tiebreaker.

What does the rest of the schedule look like for both teams?

The Bruins have two road games and one home game left:

  • 4/2 at Columbus
  • 4/4 at Minnesota
  • 4/6 vs. Tampa Bay

The Leafs have two home games and one road game left:

  • 4/2 vs. Carolina
  • 4/4 vs. Tampa Bay
  • 4/6 at Montreal

Each team’s game tonight should be a real battle, as both Carolina and Columbus are desperate for points.

On Thursday, the Leafs will face a Tampa team with little more to play for than trying to break the NHL record for most wins in a season. The Bruins will face a Wild team that will either be eliminated from playoff contention or face a must-win game, depending on what happens between now and then.

On Saturday, the Bruins and Lightning should have pretty much nothing to play for. It’ll be a real “Don’t Get Injured” Derby. The Leafs will play in Montreal, and the Canadiens will probably be eliminated by then, though the Bruins could do them a solid by beating Columbus tonight and keeping the race interesting.

It’s a little confusing, but really boils down to the Bruins needing 3 points from wins or Toronto losses to clinch a spot. While their recent play doesn’t inspire a world of confidence, they’re still in good shape.