Preview: Panthers hope to play spoiler against Bruins in season finale
TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: 7:30 p.m.
BOSTON — The math is simple.
If the Bruins get two points — in any way — against the out-of-contention Florida Panthers at TD Garden on Sunday night, Boston wins the Atlantic Division and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
While the Bruins were beating the Ottawa Senators 5-1 on Saturday night, the Lightning were surrendering a point to the Hurricanes in Carolina in their 82nd and final game.
So, even though Tampa took a one-point lead, the Bruins can take care of their own business in Sunday’s game, which is a makeup of a contest snowed out in January.
Win Sunday and the Bruins face the New Jersey Devils in the first round of the playoffs. Lose or tie and it’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in an Original Six matchup.
“Opportunity for us, hopefully we’re up to the task,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after Saturday night’s 5-2 victory over Ottawa. “I’m sure the guys will be excited tomorrow.”
With the game meaningful, Cassidy said he will start Tuukka Rask in goal.
“We’re in a position to take it, and that’s a credit to the guys,” Cassidy said. “We’ve worked hard to get here. This wasn’t by accident. We didn’t back in, I don’t think. Tampa, they beat us the other night in their building, and they deserved to win that game, and we thought, well it might be a little tougher, but here we are.”
The Bruins gave up the first goal Saturday night but then cruised past the Senators. They have allowed the first goal of the game in 43 of their 81 games and still are in position to win the Eastern Conference.
The Panthers, who defeated Buffalo 4-3 on Saturday for their fourth straight win, are 17-5-2 in their last 24 games and 24-8-2 in their last 34. They were eliminated earlier Saturday when the Flyers defeated the New York Rangers in Philadelphia.
This will be the third game meeting in nine days — and the Panthers won the other two — with Rask in goal for both. Now, they have a chance to play the role of spoiler after flying in after their home game Saturday.
Saturday night’s win gave them a club-record 27th home victory.
“I think everybody in here is disappointed,” Vincent Trocheck said after game. “The whole goal this year was to make the playoffs. We made a good push for it in the second half. It’s just the first part of the season caught up to us.”
Added coach Bob Boughner: “I’m proud of these guys, of what they’ve done in the second half of the season and the resiliency they’ve shown. We set the franchise record for home wins. There’s a lot of good things. It’s tough to recognize that right now, but I want them to finish off hard.”
Despite the two recent losses, Rask is a whopping 21-4-1 with a 1.52 goals against average and .949 save percentage lifetime against the Panthers.
James Reimer was in goal for Florida Saturday night, which left the door open for Roberto Luongo to play in the finale. Luongo, who played in his 1,000th game and defeated Boston on Thursday night, had a disastrous 2011 Stanley Cup final against the Bruins and now could have a chance for a second tiny bit of revenge Sunday.
The Panthers will again be without their best player, Aleksander Barkov, out for the weekend games with an upper-body injury suffered when checked by Boston’s Colby Cave, who has since been returned to the minors.
The Bruins are expected to have Rick Nash (upper body) back in the lineup Sunday.