Bruins’ Qualifying Round Opponents: Tampa Bay Lightning
Over the past three seasons, the Atlantic Divison has come down to the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins. In 2018, the Lightning edged the Bruins by one point to win the division and last season, Tampa Bay ran away and finished 21 points ahead of the second-place Bruins to capture the Presidents’ Trophy.
This season, it was the Bruins turn to capture the Presidents’ Trophy as they finished eight points ahead of the Lightning in the division race. Even though it was a shortened regular-season because of the coronavirus pandemic, the two division rivals are not done battling each other yet.
Both teams are part of the NHL’s 24-team tournament and playoffs. They will take part in a three-game Eastern Conference Round-Robin format to determine the top four seeds for the Conference Quarterfinals. The two teams that have staged plenty of entertaining hockey over the last few years will once again meet in the postseason as the conference favorites. After playing the Philadelphia Flyers in their first game, the Bruins will tangle with the Lightning in their second of three games on Aug. 5.
2019-20 Regular Season Battles
Tampa Bay won three of the four regular-season games the teams played. The Lightning won the first game in October in a shootout, as Steven Stamkos ended the scoreless shootout with a goal in the fourth round. Two months later, Stamkos again did in the Bruins with a pair of goals in a 3-2 victory.
The Bruins got a much-needed win on March 3 on the road when goals from Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk gave the Bruins a 2-1 win that helped gain needed separation in the division standings. Four nights later, Tampa Bay won a wild 5-3 game at the TD Garden that saw old-time hockey at its best.
The two teams combined for 94 penalty minutes on 26 penalties in a very physical matchup. Two first period shorthanded goals 62 seconds apart on the same penalty by Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev of the Lightning was the difference. David Pastrnak (two assists) and Patrice Bergeron each had two goals against Tampa Bay this season for the Bruins. Stamkos and Brayden Point each had two goals against the Bruins.
Bruins fans won’t need a roster when they watch the two faceoff in Toronto as their battles over the years have a lot of the same faces. Nikita Kucherov leads the Lightning in scoring with 33 goals and 52 assists. He is just one season removed from winning the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and Art Ross Trophy in 2019.
Tampa Bay has an explosive offense, which leads the league with 245 goals in just 70 games. Stamkos, who missed the Lightning exhibition game against the Florida Panthers Wednesday with a lower-body injury, is second in goals with 29, while Alex Killorn has a career-high 26 goals. Point has 25 goals this season for the Lightning in just his fourth season. Tampa Bay and the Winnipeg Jets were the only two teams in the league this season with multiple 25-goal scorers.
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Their defense is anchored by Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman, while Ryan McDonough, Mikhail Sergachev and Kevin Shattenkirk bolster a veteran defensive unit in front of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Vasilevskiy joins Bruins goalie Tukka Rask and the Jets Connor Hellebucyk as a finalist for the Vezina Trophy. Vasilevskiy won the award last season. As good as a season as Rask has had, Vasilevskiy has been just as good. He went 35-14-3 this season with a 2.56 goals-against average (GAA) and a .917 save percentage (SV%). He backboned a 10-game and 11-game winning streak for the Lightning between January and February.
At the trade deadline this season, the Lightning made two trades to bolster their forward lines and give coach Jon Cooper more offensive weapons. They acquired forward Blake Coleman, who has 20 goals for the second straight season from the New Jersey Devils for a first-round draft pick. The Lightning also traded for San Jose Sharks forward Barclay Goodrow.
Previous Playoff History
There have been just two playoff series between the clubs. In 2010-11, the Bruins survived a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Final on their way to winning the Stanley Cup over the Vancouver Canucks. Game 7 against the Lightning was one for the ages, as the Bruins won the tight affair 1-0 on a third-period goal from Nathan Horton with just over six minutes left.
In the 2018 playoffs, the Lightning defeated the Bruins in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. After winning three of the four regular-season games, the Bruins were shut down by the Lightning after winning the first game 6-2. Tampa Bay held the Bruins to seven goals over the final four games to advance to the Conference Final against the Washington Capitals.
Two Teams With Something to Prove
The 2018-19 seasons ended in frustration for both teams. Tampa Bay won the Presidents’ Trophy, but was swept out of the playoffs in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Bruins saw their season end in a Game 7 loss at home to the St. Louis Blues in the Stanley Cup Final. Both teams will enter the tournament with big goals and looking to erase their postseason failures of a year ago.
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Two teams with something to prove before the playoffs begin and with two of the three Vezina Trophy finalists expected to be in net, it has the makings of a pre-playoff classic.
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