The Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals each get one last chance to get on track before the start of the playoffs as they face off in the conclusion of Eastern Conference round-robin action Sunday afternoon at Toronto.
The Bruins (0-2-0) and Capitals (0-1-1) have each lost their first two gamesof the season restart, so the result of Sunday's contest will determine the third and fourth seeds in the East, accordingly.
With a win, the Bruins would earn the third seed and a first-round matchup against the seventh-seeded New York Islanders. With a loss, the Bruins would drop to the fourth seed and a first-round matchup against the sixth-seeded Carolina Hurricanes.
The Bruins' slow start in particular has been shocking, after Boston led the league with 100 points prior to the season's coronavirus-mandated hiatus. The team's latest loss came 3-2 at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.
"We're just trying to win a hockey game right now," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "Would I rather be the No. 1 seed? Absolutely. But that's not going to happen."
The Capitals, meanwhile, have also scuffled, losing 3-1 to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday after falling in a shootout in their first game of the restart.
"The point of these games is obviously for the seeding," said Capitals right wing T.J. Oshie. "But for us personally, we need to get our game to where it needs to be. We need to use these games to put ourselves in situations to mentally figure out how to be mentally strong out there, how to get our game to a certain level. Definitely it's harder to do that when you can lose three (games) and you're still in the playoffs."
For Washington, a point of focus figures to be remaining out of the box after taking seven total penalties in Thursday's setback. The Capitals never let up a power-play goal, though the time short-handed prevented the team's offense from getting going after falling behind in the first period.
"We have to handle ourselves a little bit better emotionally," said center Nic Dowd.
Center Nicklas Backstrom (undisclosed) missed practice for Washington on Friday. Defenseman John Carlson missed Thursday's game after being ruled a game-time decision, while center Lars Eller has left the NHL bubble for the birth of his second child.
For the Bruins, the key is getting the top line going as the star trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand has been kept relatively quiet (zero goals, one assist combined) through two games.
"I think those guys, to be honest with you, will be ready to go on Game 1," said Cassidy. "They're not completely in sync. Some of that is on them to get focused and get back to the details. But I trust them."
Bergeron didn't practice Friday, along with center David Krejci and backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Cassidy said he believed each player would be available Saturday.
The Capitals beat the Bruins in their first two regular-season meetings this season before Boston responded with a 7-3 win in their last matchup Dec. 23.
--Field Level Media