After a thrilling first-round, including the Boston Bruins 7-4 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Seven, Boston and Tampa Bay will hit the ice in Tampa at 3 pm EST Saturday. Despite the Tampa Bay Lightning‘s roaring success throughout the regular season, the Bruins were the undeniable thorn in their side. These two are on the cusp of a thrilling and gritty series on their road to the Stanley Cup. How will the battle of these Eastern Conference titans pan out? Check out our Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins series preview.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins Second-Round Series Preview
If anything matters in the playoffs, it’s depth. While few players will admit to injury in the postseason, many are labouring pains that have only festered over the gruelling 82-game regular season. The more lines you can confidently roll, the better shape you’ll be in. Luckily for both teams, they’re seeing some young guys step up and have been fortunate with reliable veterans. Who’s faring better with depth, however? Gotta give it to the Lightning. They litter the ice with offensive prowess.
J.T. Miller, acquired from the New York Rangers at the trade deadline along with Ryan McDonagh, has added a gritty element to the first line that’s essential to playoffs. The winger has been thriving with Tampa. Yanni Gourde is a fantastic rookie, enjoying playing with Anthony Cirelli. Gourde netted 25 goals in the regular season, nothing to sneeze at. Nikita Kucherov had a whopping five goals in the first round and one assist for a total of six points. Linemate Stamkos had a goal and five assists. Kucherov’s former linemates on the second line, Tyler Johnson, and Ondrej Palat are still pumping out production skating with Brayden Point. They had a combined 12 points in the first round.
The Bruins have a better first line with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. They just lit it up in Game Seven with three goals and four assists. Pastrnak has been an absolute beauty all postseason really. With five goals and eight assists, the 21-year-old is ready for action. He even scored a hat trick in Game Two vs. the Leafs. After playing in all 82 games for the first time in his short career, Pastrnak has proved his place on the first line without a doubt.
Where the Bruins will hit a snag is with consistency with their other three lines. Rick Nash, also acquired from the Rangers before the deadline is a playoff disappointment. He currently sits on the second line but don’t expect him to light the lamp nearly as much as his salary would have you believe. He’s got two points, a goal and an assist through the first seven games.
Does Boston have the Lightning’s Number?
Boston won three of four games against the Lightning in the regular season, making them one of their most successful series opponents. However, the New Jersey Devils swept the Lightning in the regular season, yet Tampa brushed aside the upstart Devils with ease, winning four games to one. The fact that Boston bested Tampa in the regular season is probably irrelevant. However, the Lightning would be foolish to forget the Bruins passing finesse and hard rushes to the net. Boston’s power play is also off-the-chart right now with a 31.8% success rate, the second-most productive among remaining playoff teams. Staying out of the box will be difficult, yet essential for the Lightning if they want to avoid the Bruins offensive bursts that took down the Leafs.
Glittering and Glistening Goaltending
Tuukka Rask and Andrei Vasilevskiy will be the men between the pipes in this matchup. However, one has certainly been outperforming the other. 23-year-old Vasilevskiy let in 2 or fewer goals in three of the five-game series against the Devils. The most he let past was three, only once resulting in a loss. Rask, however, wasn’t so fortunate, letting in more than three in four games of the seven-game series.
Rask is still performing at a high level, don’t get me wrong. He’s got eight years on Vasilevskiy at 31 but he’s been hit with injuries in his last few seasons, including a concussion to start this season. The Finnish-tendy may not have the bandwidth to withstand the aforementioned forward depth of the Lightning. Rask is also coming off a Game Seven where he let in four goals, two in the first period alone. When it comes to high pressure, he’s got to have his defence performing at their best or his puck-tracking abilities decline rapidly. Wipe that sweat from your brow Tuukka because this series isn’t giving any breathing room.
Vasilevskiy is young, Russian and having his biggest year yet in Tampa. He played 65 games, 15 more than his previous season while maintaining a nearly identical statistical record. His strong play this season earned him a Vezina Trophy nomination. He hasn’t seen playoff action since 2015-16 but his GAA is already his career best at 2.01. Vasilevskiy already has high-calibre playoff experience under his belt too. He notched a Stanley Cup Final victory in 2014-15 when the Lightning faced-off against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Poise will be key for these two as scoring has been no large ask for the Lightning and Bruins. Both sat in the top ten for goals for during the regular season. The Bruins are currently tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for most goals these playoffs with 28.
Both teams are coming into the series on a high, but the Bruins blew a 3-1 series lead. While they eventually won game seven, they were forced to play three extra games, while Tampa was resting at home. They should be the fresher team.
These teams stack up very well with each other, with very little to chose from. Right now, however, Tampa have the clear advantage between the pipes. Tuukka Rask’s game seemed to fall apart in the first round. He will need to find it quickly if the Bruins want to keep their Stanley Cup dream alive.
Tampa’s ability to dispose of the Devils in quick fashion along with their scoring depth and goaltending superiority gives them the edge in the series.
Prediction: Lightning in six
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