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Stanley Cup Playoff matchups set as season ends

by John Kreiser

The 16 teams that will take part in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs had been settled, but it took until late in the third period of the regular-season finale to determine all of the first-round pairings.

The Ottawa Senators defeated the Boston Bruins 4-2 on Sunday night to settle the Eastern Conference. Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored with 3:34 to go to give the Senators a 3-2 lead, and an empty-net goal assured Ottawa of the No. 7 seed, gave the Montreal Canadiens the Northeast Division title and the No. 2 seed, and kept the Bruins at No. 4.

The game was played one night after the scheduled end of the regular season after being postponed April 15 due to the Boston Marathon bombings.

The Bruins needed a victory of any kind against the Senators to win the division and the second seed. They entered Sunday with 62 points after a 3-2 overtime loss at the Washington Capitals on Saturday, one behind the Canadiens, who beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-1. Now the Bruins face the Maple Leafs, holding home-ice with a five-point edge in points.

The Maple Leafs, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2004, locked up fifth place when the Senators lost to the Flyers.

The top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins will face the New York Islanders.

The Islanders lost one game in regulation in April, but it wasn’t enough to prevent them from falling into facing the Penguins, who managed to win the East despite injuries to Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Kris Letang.

The Islanders, who are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2007, meet the Penguins for the first time in the postseason since 1993. That year, New York derailed Pittsburgh’s bid for a third straight Stanley Cup championship with a seven-game series win that was capped by David Volek’s overtime goal.

The one pairing in the East that had been set was the New York Rangers vs. the Capitals. The Rangers locked up sixth place Saturday when they defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-0 and the Senators lost 2-1 at home to the Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers and Capitals are meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild completed the Western Conference field Saturday by winning their regular-season finales on the road. The Red Wings beat the Dallas Stars 3-0, and the Wild defeated the Colorado Avalanche 3-1.

That left the Red Wings in seventh place with 56 points and the Wild in eighth with 55. The teams needed the victories because the Columbus Blue Jackets won their final game by rallying past the Nashville Predators 3-1. The Blue Jackets and Wild both finished with 55 points, but Minnesota finished eighth and Columbus ninth because the Wild had more non-shootout wins.

The Wild open the playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks, who won the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's regular-season champion. Detroit will begin the playoffs in Southern California against the Pacific Division winners, the Anaheim Ducks, who are seeded second.

The remaining pairings were determined after Saturday's late game between the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings. The Kings' 3-2 victory earned them the fifth seed and a meeting with the St. Louis Blues, a team they swept last spring on the way to the Stanley Cup. The Blues capped a superb April by beating the Blackhawks 3-1 on Saturday to earn the fourth seed and home-ice advantage.

San Jose's loss dropped the Sharks to the sixth seed and a meeting with the Northwest Division champion Vancouver Canucks. The Sharks won all three meetings with Vancouver during the regular season, but closed the season by losing three of their last four games when a better showing could have earned them home-ice. The Canucks finished their season with a 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers and dropped three of their last five games. No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider sat out the last two with an undisclosed injury, though the Canucks profess confidence he'll be ready to go.

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