Unlike last year, the Bruins’ won’t have Columbus to do their dirty work for them and eliminate the Tampa Bay Lightning. This year, the Bruins will have to go through Victor Hedman and the uber-talented Lightning squad. Here are the biggest matchups and keys to victory for the Bruins
Matchups to Watch
Point line vs Chara/McAvoy Pairing
Brayden Point is currently playing like the best player in the league, scoring 4 goals and tallying 7 points in their first-round matchup with Columbus, while playing an excellent two-way game. Chara and McAvoy will have their hands full with Point, along with his linemates Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat.
Bergeron line vs. McDonagh/Cernak Pairing
The “perfection line” was neutralized when the Bruins and Lightning faced off in the 2018 playoffs, and Ryan McDonagh had a lot to do with it. He is Tampa’s shutdown defenceman and will log tons of minutes against the Bruins top trio. The Bruins have very little chance of winning the series if the Bergeron line can’t get going again. David Pastrnak, in particular, is going to need to step up in order to deal with the physical play of both Cernak and the rest of Tampa’s bottom 6 forwards
On paper, the Lightning has a clear advantage in net, with Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy manning the pipes against backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Halak was very up and down in the Bruins opening series, and they’ll need him to be at the top of his game to even have a shot of winning this series. On the other side, while Vasilevskiy is usually outstanding, we’ve seen him lose his poise in the playoffs before, so keep an eye out a little leakage from the Russian.
Keys to Victory
To the surprise of me and many others, David Krejci has had a phenomenal start to the playoffs, putting up 8 total points in the 5 games against Carolina. With the Bergeron line is likely to have limited production due to Tampa’s defense, Krejci and his linemates will be relied upon to carry a larger portion of the weight than usual. Ondrej Kase can no longer miss open nets, and we’ll need to see the Jake DeBrusk of Games 4 and 5 if the Bruins want to advance. Against such a deep and talented team, the Bruins cannot be top-heavy on their scoring.
Simply put, if the Bruins get the Jaroslav Halak we saw in round one, they aren’t going to make it past Game 4. You cannot make some of the mistakes we saw Halak make against arguably the most talented team in the NHL. It just isn’t going to get the job done. Halak doesn’t need to be 2011 Tim Thomas, but he needs to play at a much higher level. Hopefully, the rust is fully knocked off after not preparing for a full playoff run prior to Tuukka Rask’s opt-out.
Win the Physicality Battle
Tampa’s additions of Blake Coleman, Patrick Maroon, Barclay Goodrow, and Zach Bogosian all signal one thing: They aren’t going to get pushed around anymore. Gone are the days of Tampa Bay not punching back after scrums around the net. They’ll punch back, and they’ll punch back hard. Putting Nick Ritchie back on the 3rd line should give the Bruins some more beef up front, but guys like Connor Clifton, Sean Kuraly, and Jake DeBrusk are going to need to start throwing their bodies around in order to keep up with what has become an intimidating Lightning group.
As much as I want to pick the Bruins here, I just don’t think they have the horses to keep up with this Tampa squad. Even without Steven Stamkos, they’re just so deep, especially on the defensive end. I think the Bruins are going to have a really tough time scoring goals against Hedman, McDonagh, and Sergachev, and ultimately Halak isn’t going to enough to withstand Tampa’s forwards. I hope I’m wrong, but Lightning in 6.