With just about a quarter of the regular season left to play, the Bruins are comfortably in their familiar position atop the East. Eleven points ahead of Carolina and seventeen points ahead of Toronto, it’s increasingly certain that the road to the Cup will go through TD Garden.

The biggest question to ask is who would the Bruins want to play first?

As it stands the Bruins would play Pittsburgh in the first round, but the Wild Card race is a jumbled mess. The Islanders currently hold a tenuous grip on the top Wild Card, by virtue of games played. The Penguins are only a point behind the New York with three games in hand. Florida, Ottawa, Buffalo and Washington all stand within six points behind New York with games in hand.

Washington is the most likely to miss the cut after a prolonged slump and selling at the deadline. Buffalo has the 5th toughest remaining schedule according to Tankathon and have dropped 9 of their last 15. Florida and Ottawa have been two of the hottest teams in the league as of late, both having won 16 games since January 1st.

Interestingly enough, Ottawa was the only team on the outside who joined in the deadline arms race. Their bargain acquisition of Jakob Chychrun has already paid dividends in solidifying a sub-par defense. They’ve already proven to be a thorn in the Bruins’ side this season, winning two of three matchups so far.

Florida have also given Boston fits this season, splitting the season series with both sides winning on home ice. The Cats have regained some of last year’s Presidents’ Trophy form recently and could pose a challenge come April. Their offense is as explosive as ever and Matthew Tkachuk has fit right in.

These Islanders are not the same team that bullied Boston out of the playoffs two years ago. They’re a little older, a little slower and their defense is not quite as stout. Boston beat them handily in all three matchups this season by a combined 16-6 score. Their playoff fate may very well ride on the teams behind them failing to capitalize on their games in hand.

Pittsburgh is the last team the Bruins should want to see in round one. 

Even if their depth scoring hasn’t been great and their goaltending is sub-par, any team with the combined playoff pedigree of Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Jeff Carter will be a tough out. Those four have combined for eleven Stanley Cups, not to mention the other remaining players from their repeat Cup wins not too long ago. Don’t forget Pittsburgh had the Rangers on the ropes las year until their goaltending imploded.

The Penguins have played Boston just as tough as the others in the field. But if any team could push the Bruins to the brink, it’s Pittsburgh.

Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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