The Bruins are clearly ready for the gathering storm with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
It was going to happen sooner or later in the Eastern Conference bracket, and everybody involved knows it. If all the top seeds had won their series, the B’s might have even put it off until the Eastern Conference Final, but instead the Bruins and Bolts will face each other in a highly anticipated second-round series made a certainty after the Washington Capitals again exited the postseason after the first round.
The Bruins finished ahead of the Lightning during the regular season as the Presidents' Trophy winner, but Tampa Bay was gaining momentum in the second half of the regular season when things went on pause back in mid-March. The additions of Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline made them a gritter hockey club that will be a tougher out in the postseason.
Tampa Bay has size, skill, speed, great goaltending, depth and star power while also being talented enough to play good defense when the mood strikes them, so there aren’t a lot of weaknesses to their overall game.
The Bolts also got by one of their few stumbling blocks by vanquishing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round after they were upset by them last postseason, and now they’re ready to face the Black and Gold in an epic second-round showdown. It’s not an exaggeration to say the winner of this series will be the favorite to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final, and it would seem like both teams know what’s on the line at this point.
“They’re a very good team and it’s going to be a fun series. It’s going to be very tough and it’s going to be difficult to play. Going through this you want to play good teams and they’re a hell of a team and it’s going to be a good matchup. It’s going to be a challenge,” said Brad Marchand.
“They have a bit of a different makeup now. They’re a lot more physical and they compete a lot harder, and obviously they have a ton of talent. They’re very fast and they have a great goalie. They have everything. They have all the makings of a great team, so it’s going to be a challenge.
“It’s going to be a tough one. We’re going to have to be at the top of our game to compete with them and beat them. We all know the top teams in the league and there’s different tiers basically, and the teams that are left are in that top tier. Whatever team comes out of this is because they played the best hockey and they got the bounces. These are the series that people want to see and these are the series that guys want to be a part of, and play in. This is what makes the Cup all worth it because you’ve got to play teams like Tampa.”
There’s plenty of past hockey history to go on between these two teams whether it’s the second-round series from two years ago when the Lightning dispatched the Bruins in five games, or some nasty, physical regular-season showdowns just prior to the regular season pause.
The Bruins won a 2-1 game in Tampa Bay in early March where they outshot the Lightning by a 35-21 margin and got goals from Jake DeBrusk and Brad Marchand, but then lost a competitive, playoff-like 5-3 game on home ice a few days later where the Lightning scored two shorthanded goals 68 seconds apart in the first period before hanging on for the victory that featured 92 penalty minutes in a nasty statement game.
Bruce Cassidy correctly assumed the Bruins would need to get through Tampa this postseason, much as they assumed it last season as well prior to the Lightning getting upset by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Bruins will take some scouting cues from their playoff series a couple of years ago, but the B’s also know that key young guys like David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are much more battle-hardened in the postseason this point. So they are fully expecting it to be a much different story with a Bruins team that’s ready to battle for their playoff lives in the bubble.
“I felt like it. I assumed last year would be the year [they’d face Tampa]. I don’t think anyone saw the Columbus series coming. We assumed we’d get them in the second round. We took care of business, here we are the second round this year even though it’s a different format,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day, that series, as I said, I believe they were the better team over the course of that series.
“Having said that, it was a 2-1 game in [Game 4] when I thought it was an [uncalled penalty] on McAvoy where he coughed up the puck and bang it’s in our net. I think that altered quite a bit. It could be 2-2 versus 3-1.
“Now, they do what they had to do in overtime to get the win and they closed us out. Full value to them. That break could have really propelled us. At the end of the day, we’ve grown since then, I think we’re a better team. I believe I’ve had more playoff experience. Now it’s going to be two very evenly-matched teams going at it. Each team is probably not 100% healthy, but for the most part we have strong lineups and are ready to go.”
It should be an epic second-round series that will rightly be featured by NBC as the marquee playoff matchup for the next couple of weeks, so may the best team win with the B’s surely ready for whatever a loaded Tampa Bay team has in store for them.