The Boston Bruins eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs in a thrilling seven-game series and will now face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning won the Atlantic Division title and overwhelmed the New Jersey Devils in five games to reach this point in the postseason. The Lightning will have home ice to open the series as a result.
The winner of this series will face either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Washington Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.
Here is how the two teams stack up against one another.
The Bruins won the regular season series 3-1, but the Lightning won the most recent showdown between the two. The Lightning’s one victory came in a 4-0 rout on April 3.
This marks the first time since 2011 that these two teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins defeated the Lightning in game seven of the 2011 Eastern Conference Final. Boston then went on to defeat the Vancouver Canucks in the Stanley Cup Final.
Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak scored nine goals among their 30 first round points, and they’ll once again be the backbone of this Bruins team.
The Bruins have proved time and time again that this trio is capable of taking over hockey games. Once they finally turned it on during game seven against the Leafs, it was all over for Toronto.
Zdeno Chara continued his dominant play into the postseason at the Bruins blue line, but rookie Charlie McAvoy has seen mixed results in his second playoff appearance.
McAvoy has still been solid with a playoff rating of +3, but he has been responsible for a couple uncharacteristic goals. He will need to elevate his game against a dangerous Lightning attack.
While a lot is said about the dominance of the Bruins first line, the Lightning’s first wave of offense is just as lethal.
Nikita Kucherov scored 100 points this season and came through for the Lightning at every turn this season. Center Steven Stamkos finally managed to stay healthy and was able to pull together and 86 point season which saw him score 20 goals. The Lightning acquired JT Miller at the trade deadline and so far he has managed to pile up some solid numbers for Tampa Bay but still hasn’t been able to take over like his fellow linemates.
Victor Hedman is once again displaying an elite level of play on the back end for the Lightning while his fellow linemate Dan Girardi has been a little inconsistent.
Former Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh has been fantastic since joining the Lightning and is off to a solid start to the 2018 playoffs.
If the NHL world didn’t know who Jake DeBrusk was before the first round, then they know now.
The Bruins rookie had a fantastic series, scoring five goals and recording an additional two assists. Two of those goals came in game seven against the Maple Leafs—including the game-winner in the third period.
DeBrusk has been the best Bruins rookie so far in the playoffs and looks to continue his success against Tampa Bay.
For the Lightning, center Brayden Point and winger Yanni Gourde are two depth pieces that can be dangerous when they get hot. Both players scored 60 points during the regular season and are the next wave of attack once Stamkos and Kucherov leave the ice.
Tuukka Rask is one of the critical players who will determine who wins the series. Bruins fans have seen several stretches throughout the year where Rask can take over and get hot, but he has struggled so far in the postseason.
Rask particularly struggled in the Bruins game seven win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins won the game, but Rask gave up four goals in the first two periods, three of which he should’ve stopped.
The Bruins need him to be much better against a Lightning offense that is far more dangerous than that of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy has been elite all season for the Lightning and is capable of picking up the slack when the offense stalls. He is a Vezina finalist for a reason—he won 44 games and posted a .920 save percentage.
For the Bruins, Anders Bjork remains sidelined with a shoulder injury. Brandon Carlo’s nasty leg injury at the end of the regular season will keep him out for the remainder of the playoffs.
The Bruins will win the series if…
They get consistent production beyond the first line. I’ve raved on and on about how incredible the Bruins top line is, but when they aren’t dominating, someone else needs to make a play.
The Bruins almost blew their first-round series against Toronto because they struggled to score when the first line wasn’t going off. Rookie Jake DeBrusk, Center David Krejci and defenseman Torey Krug performed well, but it is going to take a team effort.
Boston’s first line is great, but one has to imagine they’re going to get tired eventually.
The Lightning will win the series if…
Tuukka Rask doesn’t bounce back from his game seven performance and the Lightning channel their first-round performance.
If the Rask that played game seven on Wednesday shows up for this series then the Lightning will cruise to the Eastern Conference Final. This Lightning teams saw very consistent scoring depth in the first round and is much deeper than the Maple Leafs. Rask is playing a much more talented team this time around.
Game 1: @ Tampa on Saturday, April 28 at 3 p.m. on NBC Sports
Game 2: @ Tampa on Monday, April 30 at 7 p.m.
Game 3: @ Boston on Wednesday, May 2 at 7 p.m.
Game 4: @ Boston on Friday, May 4 at 7 p.m.
Game 5 (if necessary): @ Tampa on Sunday, May 6 (time TBD
Game 6 (if necessary): @ Boston on Tuesday, May 8 (time TBD)
Game 7 (if necessary): @ Tampa on Thursday, May 10 (time TBD)