Boston Bruins

Apr 26, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) is congratulated by left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) and center Patrice Bergeron (37) after scoring against the Florida Panthers during the third period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The ice cream headache known as the Bruins’ playoff possibilities cleared up in a major way Tuesday night, as the Bruins saw their list of potential first-round playoff opponents sliced in half by the night’s end.

Beginning in Boston, the Bruins handled their business with a 4-2 win over the league-best Panthers.

And Boston’s win, along with losses by the Capitals and Penguins, guaranteed that the Bruins can finish no worse than the first wild card in the Eastern Conference. It’s just officially impossible for either the 100-point Capitals (two games remaining) or 101-point Penguins (one game remaining) to catch the 105-point Bruins. And with the Panthers having already locked up the top seed in the conference, such a finish would mean that the Bruins would play the winner of the Metropolitan Division and draw into the Metro bracket for the first two rounds of the playoffs. That took care of itself Tuesday night, too, as the Hurricanes defeated the Rangers and in the process captured their first division title since 2006.

This, as of right now, remains the most likely series for the Bruins beginning as early as next Monday.

But there’s still room for the Bruins to make a push within their own division.

The potential leaping within the division can only go so far for the Bruins, of course, as the Maple Leafs are officially locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division as a result of their victory Tuesday night. But third place remains in place.

Entering the day three points behind the Lightning for third place in the Atlantic Division, the Bolts kept their three-point lead over the Bruins intact with a 4-1 victory over the Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena. With two games remaining for both the Lightning and Bruins, the Bruins will need to win their final two games of the season and need the Lightning to go either 0-2-0 or 0-1-1 to jump the Bolts for third place in the division. A 2-0-0 run for the Bruins and a 0-2-0 run for the Lightning would allow for a clean leap into third by the Bruins, while a 2-0-0 finish from the B’s and an 0-1-1 close to the year for the Lightning would tie the sides at 109 points, where a regulation wins tiebreaker would come into play and favor the Bruins.

The easiest way to put it: The Bruins need to either win out or capture three of four points over their final two games of the campaign to make the Lightning potentially sweat out of third place, while the Bolts can’t earn more than a single point over their final two games of the season for this to work for the Black and Gold.

The Bruins end their season with head-to-heads against the Sabres and Leafs, while the Lightning will wrap things up with road tilts against the Blue Jackets and Islanders.

And in case you prefer images over words, here’s the three pathways to No. 3 in the Atlantic. (OK, there’s some light reading involved, and you’re not allowed to make fun of my handwriting unless you send me a crisp five dollar bill.)

The Bruins, for what it’s worth, appeared poised to make a potential run at the No. 3 seed in the Atlantic, with Bruce Cassidy noting that he expects to dress a full NHL roster Thursday night against the Sabres.

PHOTOS: Bruins take on Florida Panthers at TD Garden

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Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has been covering the Bruins since 2010, and has been a member of the Boston chapter of the PHWA since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.