To say I was nervous for Game 7 against the Maple Leafs would be an understatement. I told my son that as a Bruins fan you expect the worst and hope for the best. And since we were hanging out on the Big Island of Hawaii I decided I was not going to watch Game 7.
Back in 2011 I was also in Hawaii during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against Tampa. David Wayne, co-founder of Bostonpucks.com, was texting me updates while I was on the beach. I decided I would do the same for Game 7 last night and it worked out again. If the Bruins go on to win the Stanley Cup they should send me to Hawaii every year for the playoffs.
Now that we’re on to Tampa, just like with the Leafs series, you have to throw out the regular season where the Bruins went 3-1 against the Lightning and really put it to them in every win. Back on November 29th the Bruins won 3-2, but they were up 3-0 at one point and 3-1 after two periods. The Lightning scored their second goal with 2:10 remaining in the game.
The Bruins and Lightning didn’t play again until March, a 3-0 B’s shutout, on St. Patty’s day. Then the Bruins beat them again shortly after, 4-2.
The Lightning returned the favor on the last week of the season with a 4-0 win. At that point of the season the Bruins were running on fumes, playing a game nearly every other day for over a month.
The Lightning were the top scoring team in the NHL during the regular season, scoring 290 goals. They have household studs up front in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov. The Bruins were 6th in the NHL in scoring with 267 goals scored. If the Bruins are going to have success this series the 2nd and 3rd lines need to out play the Lightning depth players. Can Jake DeBrusk continue his fantastic play and carry his line?
The Lightning were 13th in team defense by giving up 234 goals, which resulted in a goal differential of +60. The Bruins were 4th in team defense by giving up 211 goals for a goal differential of +56.
When it comes to the power play it’s practically a wash with the Lightning coming in at 23.9% to the Bruins 23.5% conversion rate in the regular season. In the playoffs however, the Bruins converted on 31.8% of their power plays and the Lightning dipped slightly to 23.6%.
The power play is probably where the Bruins could expose the Lightning. The Lightning had the 28th best penalty kill in the NHL during the regular season killing at a 76.1% rate, which is not great. But in their 5 first round playoff games against New Jersey the Lightning killed at 82.4%. Make what you want of the Devils special teams.
At even strength, with the looseness that the Bruins defense played with against the Leafs, I have to give the edge on defense to the Lightning. They might have the best defenseman in the League in Victor Hedman. They also added ex-Ranger stud defenseman Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline to help form one of the strongest defensive cores in the NHL. They also get to defend in front of Vezina Trophy favorite Andrei Vasilevskiy. Not too shabby of a setup. The only knock on Vasilevskiy might be his inexperience and some questionable play down the stretch.
On paper Tampa has the advantage in basically all categories except for one; the penalty kill. And yet for some reason the Bruins consistently match up well against the Lightning. It’s often done with the Bruins ability to roll four lines and remain physical with a not so rugged Bolts squad.
With that being said the Lightning will have a full week off when this series kicks off on Saturday. The Bruins only have 2 days to rest. This can only help the Lightning. There’s a chance they may come out a little rusty in Game 1, where hopefully the Bruins can take advantage, but over the long haul of the series fresher legs will benefit the Lightning.
It doesn’t help that the Bruins look tired. Due to playing almost every other day for the past two months by extending that Leafs series they do not look sharp defensively. No Brandon Carlo and a slightly hobbled Charlie McAvoy is a weakness. I hate to say this series looks like it will go the way of the Lightning but that’s how I’m leaning right now.
I hope I am wrong but, Lightning in 6.
Follow us on Twitter @BostonPucks and let’s talk hockey.