The Boston Bruins will face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round and it should be a top-notch series. The Bruins did take the regular season set three games to one, but things are different in the playoffs.
Game One of this series goes down Saturday.
The Lightning finished just one point ahead of the Bruins in the regular season and thus snatched home ice advantage. Boston defeated Tampa Bay the last time they met in the playoffs, but that was 2011 and a lot’s changed since then.
For one, the Lightning are the most offensively proficient club in the league. They’re tops in goal-scoring in the regular season, averaging 3.537 goals a game to Boston’s 3.256 goals per game. Tampa also has the third-best power play, clicking at a 23.9 percent efficiency. That’s just a shade better than the Bruins’ 23.6 percent.
Tampa even managed to improve what was a dismal penalty kill in the regular season. They killed 16 of 19 against New Jersey in the first round and really turned things around. Conversely, the Bruins saw their short-handed game slip a touch against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were 11 for 15 in the first round.
The Lightning have also off a week going into Saturday’s first game, which may or may not prove beneficial. The series against Boston will be a physical one and that extra rest could give Tampa the opportunity to heal some broken bodies.
That rest will come in handy when it comes to shutting down the Patrice Bergeron line. Head coach Jon Cooper will turn to his Lightning shutdown unit of Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat against Boston’s top unit. He’ll have the last-change advantage in the first two games, too, so look for those matchups to come up an awful lot.
Point was instrumental in keeping New Jersey’s Taylor Hall from doing much damage in the first round. He also had three points against the Devils, which means he could be a wild card against the Bruins.
Boston’s Tuukka Rask could’ve played better against the Maple Leafs. He posted a 2.94 goals against average and a .899 save percentage in the first round and allowed four goals three times in the series. He’s allowed four goals in five of his past 10 starts, including on April 3 when his Bruins dropped a 4-0 decision to none other than the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy enters the series on a different plane, posting a 2.01 goals against average and a .941 save percentage in the first round. But he’s struggled somewhat against the Bruins, despite finally collecting that aforementioned April 3 win. Prior to that, he allowed three goals against in each of his five previous starts against Boston.
The pieces are on the table for this to be a honey of a series. And it should be a physical one, with the Bruins looking to knock the Lightning around early. But if Tampa can get its offensive wheels turning and if Rask struggles for Boston, we could be looking at a quick one.