A busy weekend for two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference concludes on Sunday evening when the Carolina Hurricanes host the newly crowned Atlantic Division champion Boston Bruins in Raleigh, N.C.
The Bruins (56-11-5, 117 points) turned Saturday's 2-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Boston -- their sixth consecutive -- into a No. 1 seed in their division for the seventh time in a span of 20 years.
Garnet Hathaway scored the winning goal in the second period after dropping the gloves only nine seconds into the game. Captain Patrice Bergeron netted the other Boston goal to extend his point streak to a season-long five games.
"As a team we've been looking forward to (playing) a team that's going to be in the playoffs and we potentially could see," Hathaway said. "(Tampa is) a team that's battling right now, and you're going to play that same way. It's encouraging for us as a line, but encouraging for us as a team to play that way."
Only Hathaway's former team, the Washington Capitals (10), along with the Detroit Red Wings (seven) and Vancouver Canucks (seven) have won as many division titles as Boston over the past two decades.
The Bruins also became the third-fastest team in NHL history to clinch a division championship in the 82-game, four-division format. Only the 1995-96 Red Wings (68 games) and 1996-97 Colorado Avalanche (70 games) reached the division title in fewer games.
As a result of the Saturday victory, Boston is now on pace for 63 wins and 133 points. Both marks would set single-season NHL records.
"We want to improve, we want to get better," Bergeron said. "We like the effort 5-on-5 and the 60-minute effort from top to bottom. ... We go out and play against a really good team and come out on top."
Saturday marked defenseman Dimitry Orlov's 700th career game and forward David Krejci's 1,028th, which vaulted him into fifth place on the Bruins' all-time list.
With those milestones and the Bruins moving within one win of tying the franchise record of 57, the division title was almost lost on coach Jim Montgomery.
"You know, I forgot because things were happening so quickly," Montgomery said. "We didn't actually talk about the Atlantic Division, but it's a tremendous feat with 10 games left."
The Metropolitan Division-leading Hurricanes (47-16-8, 102 points) have won three of four and gone 6-4-0 in their past 10 games, becoming just the second of now three teams to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New Jersey Devils became the third on Saturday night.
Carolina has banked those wins during what coach Rod Brind'Amour called his team's toughest stretch of the regular season "by a mile," and it continued with finding a way to a 5-3 Saturday triumph against Toronto.
Sebastian Aho scored 17:34 into the third period to win the game and ensure his 17th multi-point game of the season, tying Martin Necas for the team lead.
Pyotr Kochetkov made a career-high 41 saves.
"Unless you have a goalie making saves, you're going to be in trouble," Brind'Amour said.
Not long after an important win, the Canes face another stiff test in a Bruins team that it will hope to see down the road in the postseason.
"Just go 1-0," said Aho, who has nine game-winning goals. "It's cliche but it's how we try to live by. We've been doing a pretty good job all year just going 1-0 and not thinking ahead or in the past."
Carolina has gone 8-2-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
--Field Level Media