As the calendar turns to April, the NHL is coming down the stretch of the 2021-22 regular season and the playoff push is on for many teams. In the Eastern Conference, the eight postseason spots are basically claimed, with the Boston Bruins most likely being one of the eight teams playing hockey past the final day of the regular season on April 29.
Despite the Bruins being in third place in the Atlantic Division, there will be plenty of playoff jockeying over the final 28 days. The schedule for the Black and Gold is not going to be an easy one as they battle for home-ice advantage in the first round. Boston has 15 games until the playoffs and the month of April will be anything but easy for coach Bruce Cassidy and his team.
April 8: at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m.
This will be the final of four meetings between the Bruins and Lightning in the regular season, with the Bruins holding a 2-0-1 edge on the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. After losing the first game in overtime at home on Dec. 4, the Black and Gold have won the last two games in regulation, 5-2, on the road on Jan. 8, then rallying from an early deficit to win 3-2 at home on March 24 on the strength of a David Pastrnak hat trick.
Tampa Bay added forwards Brandon Hagel from the Chicago Blackhawks and Nick Paul from the Ottawa Senators at the trade deadline. Hagel made his presence felt in the March 24 game, scoring a shorthanded goal. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has the capability to steal a game or a playoff series by himself.
April 10: at Washington Capitals, 1:30 p.m.
The Capitals find themselves in the second and final wild card spot and will most likely occupy one when the playoffs start as they trail the New York Rangers/Pittsburgh Penguins by five points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Boston has won the first two meetings, 7-3 in Washington on Jan. 10, and 4-3 in Boston on Jan. 20 when Charlie McAvoy scored a power play goal with 45 seconds left in the game.
Alex Ovechkin is one of five 40-goal scorers this season and is always a treat to watch, while Evgeny Kuznetsov is second on the team in goals with 22.
April 12: vs. St. Louis Blues, 7 p.m.
This is the first of two games between the two teams in a rematch of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final. I don’t need to remind anyone of how that finished with the Blues winning Game 7 at the TD Garden, 4-1. One year later, Torey Krug left the Bruins in free agency for the Blues, signing a seven-year, $45.5 million contract. This will be Krug’s first game in Boston as last season’s realigned divisions had the Bruins in the East and the Blues in Central.
Like Bruins in the Atlantic Division, the Blues are locked in a battle with the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, and Dallas Stars for second and third place, while trying to avoid a wild card spot in the Western Conference. Jordan Kyrou leads the Blues in goals (22), assists (40), and points (62), while Krug has eight goals and 27 assists. The two teams will play seven nights later on April 19 in St. Louis and these will be four points that both teams will need down the stretch.
April 16: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 12:30 p.m.
The last time these two met on Feb. 8 at the TD Garden, Brad Marchand punched Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry in the head, then rubbed his stick in his face, which resulted in a six-game suspension. Pittsburgh won the game 4-2 after the Bruins built a 2-0 first-period lead on two goals by Pastrnak.
Jake Guentzel leads the Penguins in goals with 32 and Sidney Crosby leads them in assists with 46 and points with 71. The two teams will meet for the third and final time five nights later in Pittsburgh on April 21.
April 23: vs. New York Rangers, 3 p.m.
The Rangers will make their second trip of the season to Boston, winning the first game on Nov. 26, 5-2, on three third-period goals from Artemi Panarin, Alexis Lafreniere, and Jacob Trouba. New York won the second matchup on Feb. 15 in a shootout, 2-1, that lasted nine rounds until K’Andre Miller ended the lengthy shootout to secure the extra point for the Rangers.
Under first-year coach Gerard Gallant, the Rangers are led by former Boston College standout Chris Kreider and his 46 goals and Mika Zibanejad is having a strong season with 26 goals and 44 assists. Defenseman Adam Fox is once again in the running for the Norris Trophy with 56 assists and 66 points. Goalie Igor Shesterkin is having a Vezina Trophy season with a 32-10-3 record and a 2.13 goals-against average (GAA) with a .934 save percentage (SV%). This will be a very good test for the Bruins ahead of the playoffs against a legitimate Eastern Conference contender.
April 26: vs. Florida Panthers, 7 p.m.
In the next to last home game, the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers make their second trip to Boston, in what could very well be a first-round opponent of the Bruins. The two teams have split their first two meetings, with Florida winning at home, 4-1 on Oct. 27, then Boston winning at home three nights later, 3-2, in a shootout.
Florida acquired center, Claude Giroux, from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline, and also defenseman Ben Chariot from the Montreal Canadiens, and Robert Hagg from the Buffalo Sabres. The Panthers are going all-in to bring the Stanley Cup to South Florida this season.
April 29: at Toronto Maple Leafs, 7 p.m.
This matchup could very well have serious playoff ramifications in terms of seeding not only in the Atlantic Division, but also in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins, Lightning, and Maple Leafs are in a log jam for second and third place in the division while trying to avoid one of the two wild card spots.
Toronto won the first game 5-2 at home on Nov. 6, then beat the Bruins 6-4 at the TD Garden Tuesday night. In two games this season, the Maple Leafs have outscored the Black and Gold 11-6 and won both games by using their speed, skill, and goaltending. Auston Matthews leaves an explosive offense with 50 goals.
The month of April is going to be a grind for the Bruins, with some tough games on the road against postseason teams. How they do in the games away from the TD Garden will go a long way into determining their seed for the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.