The Bruins are in the second round against the Lightning. They were always supposed to be.
Still, they made the first round look alarmingly difficult.
They were not supposed to need a Game 7, heart-attack win against the Maple Leafs. They weren't supposed to need a third-period comeback to get out of the first round against an inferior opponent.
This Bruins team, which blew away everyone's expectations in the regular season with 112 points, did not look like one of the league's three best teams in the first round. A lot of things did not go according to plan.
Now the Bruins will need to see serious improvement in multiple areas with a real opponent awaiting them in Tampa. Among them: Defense, goaltending, coaching and secondary scoring.
Charlie McAvoy played better in Game 7, but his play throughout the series has done little to convince anyone he's all the way back from his knee injury. Torey Krug scoring the game-tying in third period was a feel-good moment, as the veteran defenseman had gone from one of the best players on the ice in the first two games to extremely shaky as the series went on.
The Bruins got through the first round with strong play from Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk. Chara's performance is a given as long as he's healthy. Heading into a series against the best offense in the NHL, they'll need much better play in their own zone throughout their six defensemen.
On that note, the Bruins can't afford to have another lapse behind the bench like they did in Game 5, when Bruce Cassidy changed his defensive matchups in a move that gave Toronto two first-period goals. Cassidy was just so-so in the first round, as the good decisions (matching Chara against Auston Matthews throughout the first four games, returning his lineup to normal in Game 7) were met with plenty of questionable ones (playing Tommy Wingels on the second line in Game 6, taking Chara away from Matthews in Game 5).
Tuukka Rask was not his usual postseason self in the first round. He struggled in Game 5 and did not look confident at all for much of Game 7. His struggles are only exaggerated locally for some reason, but allowing one bad goal in the playoffs is enough to sink his team. Rask allowed three or four.
Mike Babcock did his best to minimize them, but Patrice Bergeron's line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak were dynamite for much of the series. Pastrnak scored seven damn goals. On the second line, Jake DeBrusk showed a Nathan Horton-esque to rise to the occasion. The fourth line, overall, was its usual strong self.
David Krejci bookended the series with great performances, but was unremarkable in between. David Backes brought nothing 5-on-5. Rick Nash got better as the series went on, but had only two points all series. Danton Heinen was mediocre for five games before being scratched for Game 6 and scoring a huge goal in Game 7.
Many of these issues did not exist throughout the season, when the Bruins pushed for the Presidents' Trophy despite playing with several injuries. The regular season was impressive. The first round agains the Maple Leafs, overall, was not.
So now they head to Tampa, where a buzzsaw could await. The Bruins outplayed the Lightning in their regular season meetings, but Tampa is fresh off mowing through the Devils in five Games.
So celebrate Wednesday's win, but note that your nails aren't quite as long as they were when the postseason started. One round is in the books. If the Bruins don't get their act together, the next one will be their last.