The Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL’s Atlantic Division with 18 and 19 games remaining, respectively. The Bruins with 90 points and the Lightning with 85 points also lead their conference and are the top two teams in the league.
It’s likely that one of these two clubs will win the Presidents’ Trophy with the best record in the NHL for the 2019-20 regular season. Tampa took the honor last year with a record-tying performance.
The 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks were the last team to accomplish the feat of winning the Presidents’ Trophy and then taking the Stanley Cup in the same season. The Lightning are proof that the best record in the league is no guarantee of success in the playoffs, having exited the postseason in a first-round sweep last season.
Still, home-ice advantage through the playoffs is a prize worth contending for. How do the two teams stack up against the competition for the remainder of the season? Does either team have an advantage due to the quirks of scheduling?
The opponents face each other twice during the first week in March, with the Bruins in Tampa on Tuesday, March 3. The Lightning then head north to Boston that Saturday, March. 7. Tampa won the first two matchups — a 4-3 shootout road win early in the season and a 3-2 home victory two weeks before Christmas.
If Tampa can pull off the season-sweep, the battle for the top spot could go down to the last day of the regular season. If Boston can earn a split, that may be enough to hold off the late-charging Bolts. Advantage: Boston
The Bruins play eight of their final 18 games at home. The Lightning has 11 home games and eight road matchups over their remaining 19 games. Boston plays better at home with a 21-3-9 record, compared to 18-10-3 away from the Garden. Tampa has a more even record, notching 20 wins each on the road and at home. Advantage: Tampa
Versus the Rest of the League
In terms of common opponents, each team has contests against the Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Ottawa Senators. The Lightning face Detroit, owner of the worst record in the league, three times including the final game of the season. Advantage: Tampa
The Bruins have three games left in California, the Lightning have a road trip against the three Canadian teams in the Pacific conference. Advantage: Even
In one of the biggest scheduling factors, the Lightning has just three games against the top-10 clubs in the league. Two of those against the Bruins and a mid-March matchup with the Flyers. The Bruins must face top-10 opponents six times, including a visit to the Western Conference-leading Blues in their next-to-last game of the season. Advantage: Tampa
Comparing the winning percentage of remaining opponents, the Bruins face teams that have won a combined .495 of their games. Remaining Lightning opponents have won just .458 of their contests. Advantage: Tampa
The Bolts’ 40 wins are already the most in the league. They have a game in hand over the Bruins, but Tampa has lost three straight. The Lightning has two long winning streaks already this season. If they can put together a run of five or six in a row, it’s possible for them to pull even with the Bruins late in March. That would make for an interesting slate of games during the final week of the season.
The Eastern Conference is primed for an exciting run-up to the start of the playoffs. Five clubs are within five points in the battle for the two wild card spots. The Western Conference has a similar situation in their wild card chase, with the Pacific Division looking like it may go down to the wire before a winner is determined. Bring it on. Don’t you just love this time of the year?
Hockey is in my blood. As an original season ticket holder of the Tampa Bay Lightning, I have followed the boys in Black, White, and Blue since the birth of the franchise. In addition to writing for THW, I am the Sports Editor of The Lasco Press where I cover the NASCAR Cup Series as a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Traveling to events around the country, primarily East of the Mississippi.