The top team from each conference during the NHL regular season will try to avoid falling to the No. 4 seed in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Stanley Cup Qualifiers round-robin games Sunday, when the Boston Bruins play the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues face the Dallas Stars.
Boston, which led the Eastern Conference with a .714 points percentage, was the only team in the NHL above .700 before the season was paused March 12. But the Bruins have scored three goals in losses to the Philadelphia Flyers and Tampa Bay Lightning in round-robin games at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the hub city for the East.
The winner of the Bruins-Capitals game Sunday (Noon ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, NBCSWA, NESN) will be the No. 3 seed and play the New York Islanders, the No. 6 seed, in the Eastern Conference First Round. The loser will play the Carolina Hurricanes (No. 5).
Tampa Bay (.657) and Philadelphia (.645) were deciding the top two Eastern seeds in their game Saturday.
Washington, which at .652 had the third-best points percentage in the East, could be without defenseman John Carlson again; he has yet to play in the round-robin after he was injured during an exhibition game against Carolina on July 29.
Neither the Bruins nor the Capitals have held a lead during the round-robin games.
“Our guys are not in a bad place here, they’re really not,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said Saturday. “We want to win, we want to play better, we wanted to preserve the No. 1 seed. But we have a veteran group that knows what the ultimate goal is and what’s at stake. They know that come Tuesday or Wednesday — I assume we’ll open one of those two days — they know how to play playoff hockey.
“So as a coach, I haven’t been around as long as they have, but I do know them pretty well, and I feel like we’re trending in the right direction. I see energy in practice now the last couple of days, and I think that’s just a little more clarity in our situation. It’s either the Islanders or Carolina.”
St. Louis is the defending Stanley Cup champion and had a .662 points percentage, best in the Western Conference and second in the NHL to Boston. The Blues lost round-robin games to the Colorado Avalanche (.657) and Vegas Golden Knights (.606) at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the West.
The winner of the Blues-Stars game on Sunday (3 p.m. ET; NBC, SN360, SN1) will be the No. 3 seed and play the Calgary Flames, the No. 6 seed, in the Western Conference First Round. The loser will play the Vancouver Canucks (No. 5).
Vegas defeated Colorado 3-2 in overtime on Saturday to earn the No. 1 seed. The Golden Knights will play the No. 8 seed Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, and the Avalanche, the No. 2 seed, will play the No. 7 seed Arizona Coyotes.
Blues forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Thomas are expected to play after being ruled unfit for a 6-4 loss to the Golden Knights on Thursday.
“We haven’t gotten to our game like we wanted to,” St. Louis forward Zach Sanford said. “I think for [Sunday], that’s our biggest focus, is just playing our game and going from there.”
Dallas (.594) has not won a round-robin game and was shut out in a 4-0 loss to Colorado on Wednesday. The Stars were without goalie Ben Bishop and defenseman John Klingberg against the Avalanche, but coach Rick Bowness said “everyone is healthy” when asked about his lineup Saturday.