It is safe to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning have the Boston Bruins’ number this season. They have won four of the five games the Atlantic Division rivals have played. Now the two foes will face off in a best-of-seven Eastern Conference Second-Round series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Both teams are missing some big-name players, but there is no shortage of talent on both sides. They were the two winningest teams during the regular season in the Eastern Conference as the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy with 100 points and the Lightning finished eight points back with 92. Here are five keys to a Bruins series win and a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
Help Jaroslav Halak
Pressed into action in Game 3 against the Carolina Hurricanes after Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs on Aug. 15, Halak responded by winning all three games he played in. He stopped 68 of the 73 shots fired at him by Carolina.
A 15-year veteran that has played for five different teams, Halak has 34 postseason games in net, which includes a trip to the Eastern Conference finals as the No. 8-seed in 2010. In four games since entering the Toronto bubble, Halak is 3-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average (GAA) and a .912 save percentage (SV%). His lone loss was in the Bruins first round-robin game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Aug. 2.
Losing a Vezina Trophy finalist can be a devastating blow to a team’s chances in the postseason. Halak has been one the best backup goalies over the last two seasons and the Bruins think so much of him that they resigned him to a one-year contract extension in May for the 2020-21 season. If he can play the way did against Hurricanes and have his defense help him out in seeing the puck, the Bruins will be in a good position to advance.
Bruins Veterans Need to Stay Hot
As a veteran team that has been to three Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins had their core veterans step up to help eliminate the Hurricanes in five games. David Krejci was arguably the best player in the series for the Black and Gold as he had three goals and five assists in the series. The eight points give him 112 career playoff points and leave him second behind Ray Bourque on the Bruins all-time list.
The Bruins lost leading-goal scorer David Pastrnak following Game 1 with a lower-body injury, but that didn’t stop his linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron from scoring. Marchand finished with three goals and four assists, while Bergeron had two goals, both game-winners, and three assists. They played the middle three games with different right wings in Pastrnak’s place, but that didn’t slow them down.
When Bergeron and Marchand were on the ice in the five games against Carolina 5-on-5, the Bruins had a 3-0 advantage on the scoreboard in just under 60 minutes of ice-time.
Defensively, Zdeno Chara did not record a point, but the Bruins captain averaged nearly 20 minutes of ice-time a night, including 25:30 in the clinching Game 5. The 43-year old is still the Bruins’ best presence on the ice late in the game protecting a lead.
Continued Power Play Production
During the regular season, the Bruins had the second-ranked power play in the league. In their series against the Hurricanes, the power play played a big part in advancing to the Second Round. In a series-clinching 2-1 victory in Game 5, two second-period power-play goals by Krejci and Bergeron ending up being the difference.
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The Bruins scored on five of their 19 opportunities against Carolina. In the absence of Pastrnak for three games, Krejci was bumped up from the second power-play unit to the first by coach Bruce Cassidy and responded with a goal and an assist. Krejci helped that first unit click so much, that when Pastrnak returned for Game 5, Krejci stayed on the top unit and scored another goal.
With the Bruins and Lightning known for playing low scoring games, look for the power play to come into play during the series and it could decide who advances and who ends up leaving the Toronto bubble.
Slowing Down the Confident Lightning
Tampa Bay eliminated the Columbus Blue Jackets to get revenge for last season’s stunning first-round upset when they were swept after winning the Presidents’ Trophy. After winning the first game in five overtimes, the Lightning never gave the Blue Jackets any signs of life in closing out the series with a second overtime win in Game 5. Both overtime goals were scored by Brayden Point.
Point has five goals and five assists in eight games since arriving in Toronto. Nikita Kucherov has two goals and seven assists, while Tyler Johnson has three goals. Steven Stamkos has not played in the playoffs due to a lower-body injury and his status for this series is still unknown. Playing without Stamkos is something the Lightning are familiar with and they still have plenty of offensive firepower without him.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy has been a thorn in the Bruins side in 2019-20. He won three of the four regular-season meetings and then made 27 saves on Aug. 5 in the Lightning 3-2 Round Robin win.
Against the Blue Jackets, Vasilevskiy had a 1.84 GAA and a .930 SV% in five games. It will be crucial for the Bruins to not get frustrated if Vasilevskiy begins the series with a hot hand. If they can get traffic around him and take advantage of rebounds, then they can get to the former Vezina Trophy winner.
Division Rivals to Battle Again
Over the last three years, the Atlantic Division title was come down to these two rivals. The only postseason battle in that time was in 2018 and it went to the Lightning in five games in the Conference Semifinals. After four very physical battles during the regular season and one in round-robin play, a best-of-seven series to reach the Eastern Conference Final has the makings of a long series for two teams who don’t like each other very much.