No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs No. 4 Boston Bruins
Lightning: 4-1 to win Eastern Conference First Round against No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets; 2-1-0 (four points) in Qualifiers round-robin; 43-21-6, .657 points percentage in regular season
Bruins: 4-1 to win Eastern Conference First Round against No. 5 Carolina Hurricanes; 0-3-0 (zero points) in Qualifiers round-robin; 44-14-12, .714 points percentage in regular season
Season series: TBL 3-1-0; BOS 1-2-1
Game 1 is Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS)
The top two teams in the Eastern Conference in the regular season meet when they open their second-round Stanley Cup Playoff series.
Boston, which won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s top team in the regular season, is the fourth seed after not winning a game (0-3-0) in the round-robin portion of the qualifying round. They defeated the Hurricanes in five games in a first-round series that ended with a 2-1 victory on Wednesday.
“I think the team after the round-robin, I think we turned the page and we just play our game,” said forward David Krejci, who leads Boston with nine points (three goals, six assists) in eight postseason games. “We had that great game plan, we knew exactly what to do, how to beat [Carolina]. We stuck with it and all four lines, they chipped in. Every game was a different line. That’s what you need in the playoffs. Every game, somebody else steps up. That was huge.”
Tampa Bay held onto the second seed in round-robin play before defeating the Blue Jackets in five games in the first round, a series that ended with a 5-4 overtime victory on Wednesday. In the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tampa was the No. 1 seed but lost to No. 8 seed Columbus in four games in the first round.
“We’ve got different lines that can bring different elements to the games,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “I just like the balance on our team, and we expect the best out of everyone every night and we proved that in the first round.”
This will be the third playoff series between the teams. Each team has won once, with the Lightning winning the most recent, in five games in the 2018 Eastern Conference Second Round.
Tampa Bay defeated Boston in the round-robin, 3-2 on Aug. 5, and won three of the four regular-season games between the teams, although each of the four games was within a goal in the last three minutes of regulation.
“A round-robin game that could’ve went either way I thought, they scored late with about two minutes to go and we got ourselves back in that game,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Right before the break (caused by the coronavirus) we had two really good games [against Tampa Bay]. We went up there (a 2-1 win, March 3), they beat us in our building (a 5-3 loss, March 7), both physical, both started to develop some animosity in those games.”
Each team could look slightly different than it did in the regular season. Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos has been unfit to play since the postseason started and his status for this round remains unclear. Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s best goalie in the regular season, played all four regular-season games against Tampa Bay but he is no longer with the team, having left the bubble for a family emergency on Aug. 15.
Jaroslav Halak has won each of the past three games for the Bruins and is 3-1-0 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.
This is the Lightning’s third straight trip to the postseason. The Bruins have made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, including a trip to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final when they lost to the St. Louis Blues in seven games.
Lightning: Forward Brayden Point was the hero for the Lightning against Columbus, scoring the winner in the fifth overtime of Game 1 and again in overtime of Game 5. Coach Jon Cooper said the goals were two of the biggest in Lightning history. With Stamkos (lower body) yet to play this postseason, Point has been a difference-maker with 10 points (five goals, five assists) in eight games skating on a line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov.
Bruins: Krejci. Former coach Claude Julien used to say that the Bruins go as Krejci goes; with the years passing and under a new regime, that hasn’t changed much. The forward looks rejuvenated after the rest provided by the pause and has found chemistry with Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase on the second line. He has also been promoted to the first power-play unit, scoring five of his points (two goals, three assists) with the man-advantage.
Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy has rebounded from a poor performance (.3.82 goals-against average, .856 save percentage) in a four-game sweep to the Blue Jackets in the 2019 playoffs. He won the Vezina Trophy last season and is a finalist this season. He’s 6-2-0 this postseason with a 1.98 GAA and .927 save percentage.
Bruins: With Rask’s decision to leave Toronto to head home to his family, Halak is now the starting goalie for the Bruins. In his four games in the playoffs, Halak has a .912 save percentage and 2.29 GAA and, perhaps as important, the faith of his teammates and the knowledge that the net is his. It’s not easy losing a goalie of Rask’s caliber, but the Bruins are in the best position in the NHL to withstand that kind of loss.
Numbers to know
Lightning: Kucherov had three assists in Tampa Bay’s series-clinching 5-4 overtime win Wednesday to become the Lightning’s all-time leading scorer in the postseason with 70 points (31 goals, 39 assists), passing forward Martin St. Louis (68 points; 33 goals, 35 assists).
Bruins: The Bruins are 27-2 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when forward Brad Marchand scores. The team’s loss in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Carolina Hurricanes marked the first time the team had lost a game when Marchand scored since April 21, 2012. In 2019, when the Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final, the team went 8-0 when Marchand scored.
Lightning: Hedman played a 57:38 in the 3-2 victory in Game 1 against the Blue Jackets. Not only was it the most on the Lightning in the five-overtime game, but it came three days after he left a round-robin game against the Philadelphia Flyers with an apparent ankle injury. Hedman finished the series with two points (one goal, one assists), 22 shots, and averaged 31:07 of ice time.
Bruins: It’s been a rocky postseason for forward David Pastrnak, who missed all but one practice in training camp and three of the five games against the Carolina Hurricanes. The right wing, who tied with the Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals with the most goals in the NHL in the regular season (48), has looked a bit rusty. He needs to find his hands and his game and regain the magic that makes the Bruins top line work for the team to keep winning. Pastrnak has four points (one goal, three assists) in five postseason games; he has 47 points (18 goals, 29 assists) in 47 career playoff games
They said it
“First, we changed personnel. There’s a difference upon itself. Second, as a coaching staff, we didn’t revamp our system. We didn’t need to do that. But we did tweak some things we needed to address. The pause helped us dig deeper into our team. During the regular season you don’t get that much time to do that. And there was a lot of player buy-in. Everybody wants to succeed. We’re all in this together and we’ve all kind of carried that attitude.” — Lightning coach Jon Cooper on the difference between this version of the Lightning and the one that was swept by Columbus a year ago.
“I’m proud of the guys. We went through a little bit of adversity — every team’s going through it here — we did it with some of our personnel, but you sort of keep the trains running on time so to speak and do your job and our guys have really grasped that culture we’ve created here.” — Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy
Will win if …
Lightning: They find a way to get on the power play and convert once there. In the five-game series against the Blue Jackets, which included six overtime periods, the Lightning were 0-for-10 on the power play, and in eight postseason games are 13.3 percent (2-for-15). The Lightning were 23.1 percent on the power play in the regular season, tied for fifth in the NHL with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and had six players with at least 10 power-play points.
Bruins: They straighten out their 5-on-5 scoring. Of the 15 goals scored in five playoffs games against the Hurricanes, eight were at even strength. It’s a good sign that their power play (17.9 percent) has seemed to find its footing, but the Bruins need to also come through at even strength. The second line might be finding some chemistry, so some offense from DeBrusk, Krejci, and Kase would go a long way toward the Bruins advancing to the Eastern Conference Final.
Lightning projected lineup
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Anthony Cirelli — Tyler Johnson
Barclay Goodrow — Yanni Gourde — Blake Coleman
Carter Verhaeghe — Cedric Paquette — Pat Maroon
Victor Hedman — Zach Bogosian
Ryan McDonagh — Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev — Kevin Shattenkirk
Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Mitchell Stevens, Scott Wedgewood
Unfit to play: Steven Stamkos, Jan Rutta
Bruins projected lineup
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk — David Krejci — Ondrej Kase
Sean Kuraly — Charlie Coyle — Jack Studnicka
Joakim Nordstrom — Par Lindholm — Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara — Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug — Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk — Connor Clifton
Scratched: Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Karson Kuhlman, Nick Ritchie, Zach Senyshyn, Jeremy Lauzon, John Moore, Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril, Maxime Lagace
Unfit to play: None