The second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some absolutely massive matchups.
The top two-teams regular season teams in the NHL — the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets — are meeting in the Western Conference.
Then there is also the other Eastern Conference matchup that will feature the third-and fourth-best regular season teams when the Boston Bruins meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.
This series will have five of the top-30 point per game players in the league from the regular season. It will have top-line defensemen in veterans Victor Hedman and Zdeno Chara, and young stars in Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. It will have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilveskiy and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Tuukka Rask.
The Bruins ended up winning the season series by taking three out of the four games and needed to get through a seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round to get here.
The Lightning won the Atlantic Division and earned the top-spot in the Eastern Conference then easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in five games.
It should be a great series that has the potential to go the distance. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about it.
Bruins: When you look at the young talent on the Bruins’ roster it’s kind of crazy to think back to the 2015 draft when they had three consecutive picks in the middle of the first-round and look at the players they didn’t take with those picks and who went right after them. Kyle Connor. Mathew Barzal. Broek Boeser. At the time, the Bruins’ selections were criticized and left a lot of draft observers a little underwhelmed. The jury is still out on two of their selections, but nobody should be questioning the Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall) given what he has done this season. After scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in his debut season with the Bruins, he has been sensational for them in the playoffs with five goals and two assists in their first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two goals in their Game 7 win.
Lightning: How could it be anybody other than Nikita Kucherov? After finishing as the second-leading scorer in the NHL during the regular season he had an absolutely monster first-round performance against the New Jersey Devils, finishing with five goals and five assists in the five-game series. He recorded at least one point in each game and had three games with multiple points. He has been one of the best playoff performers in the NHL during his career to this point.
Bruins: It would not be the playoffs if it did not feature Rick Nash doing a lot of things except actually scoring goals and recording points. He is the king of being so close in these situations. He had one goal and one assist in the first-round against Toronto and probably should have had more. He might need more in the second round if the Bruins are going to keep winning. As always, it is not that he is a total non-factor in these games. He is getting shots, chances … he just can not score. At all. We go through this every postseason like clockwork. It is truly remarkable.
Lightning: A surprising stat from the first-round from the Lightning side of things is that they scored 18 goals in their five games against the New Jersey Devils and Victor Hedman did not factor into one of them. Zero goals. Zero assists. Only once this season did he go more than four games without recording a point (he had a seven-game pointless streak very early in the season). He still played shutdown defense, but it is his offensive production to go along with that shutdown play defensively that makes him one of the league’s elite player. He probably will not be held off the scoreboard much longer.
Bruins: It seems that no matter what he does Tuukka Rask is always going to be under an intense microscope in Boston. Overall his career postseason numbers are outstanding. He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Final once before. But he has also had some objectively bad games in big situations. Game 7 against Toronto gave everybody something to argue about because he did enough to get the win but also finished with ugly individual numbers. He managed only an .891 save percentage in the series. That sort of performance may not get the job done against Tampa Bay. He needs to be better, and he has a rather lengthy track record in his career to suggest that he can be.
Lightning: Andrei Vasilveskiy earned himself a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting this season for leading the league in wins, shutouts, and finishing with a .920 save percentage. He seemed to cool down the stretch a bit — perhaps a little fatigue setting in due to a heavy workload and his first year as a full-time starter? — but he really came back strong in the first-round of the playoffs, posting a .941 save percentage against the Devils. The competition gets a little tougher in the second round against a Bruins team that has more than one real threat to score.
Bruins: The Bruins had some of the best special teams in the NHL during the regular season, finishing in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill. The power play was dominant in the first-round against Toronto, converting on eight of its 23 chances. The penalty kill struggled a bit going 11-for-15 against the Maple Leafs, though that is probably too small of a sampling to get overly concerned.
Lightning: Like the Bruins, the Lightning had a dominant power play during the regular season, finishing with the third-best unit in the league. Also like the Bruins that unit was great in the first round, and it wasn’t just the usual suspects finding the back of the net. Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde combined to score four of their five power play goals against the Devils. The key matchup in this series will be the Lightning’s penalty kill — one of the worst in the league during the regular season — against Boston’s power play.
Bruins: The Bruins were a dominant 5-on-5 team during the season when it came to possession and shot metrics, finishing the regular season as a 53.2 percent Corsi team (second best in the league) and then came back in the first-round and just absolutely crushed the Maple Leafs in those categories. Goaltending made the series the close. Little better play from Tuukka Rask or a little worse play from Frederick Andersen in his wins turns that series into a laugher.
Lightning: Similar story for the Lightning when it comes to their ability to control the puck and the shot shares. Their Corsi mark was seventh best in the league during the regular season and they were all over the Devils in that area in the first-round. With Vasilevskiy playing great for the Lightning and neither Devils goalie able to consistently withstand the Lightning attack the series was over quickly.
Bruins: The big one here for the Bruins is the same one that it has been for a while. Defenseman Brandon Carlos, a 20-minute per night player, has been sidelined since the end of the regular season with an ankle injury that is going to cost him the rest of the season. Patrice Bergeron may not be entirely 100 percent after missing Game 4 in the opening round with an upper-body injury but he did return for the rest of it and had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Game 7 win.
Lightning: The Lightning are entering this series pretty healthy, at least when it comes to injuries that could potentially keep someone out of the lineup.
X-Factor For Bruins
Charlie McAvoy had a magnificent rookie season for the Bruins, stepping right into the lineup and immediately becoming a top-pairing, impact defenseman when he was healthy. For as good as his regular season, he had some struggles in the opening round, recording just a single assist in the seven games. He wasn’t necessarily *bad* in the first round against Toronto, but he also wasn’t the same player he was during the regular season. In other words, he has shown that he has another level he can get to. If he gets back there in the second round, look out.
X-Factor For Lightning
Ryan McDonagh was the headliner in their latest big trade with the New York Rangers, but when it is all said and done we might be remembering that deal as the J.T. Miller trade. Miller was kind of the forgotten player in that deal but he has been incredible since coming over to the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and adding eight assists in 19 regular season games then contributing four points in the five-game series against the Devils. He is a pretty consistent 20-25 goal, 50-55 point forward. Just another offensive weapon up front for a team that is already loaded with them.
Bruins in 6. This obviously has the makings of a six-or seven-game series. They are two of the best teams in the league, they have loads of talent — both veteran and young — all over their lineups, they both have goalies that are capable of stealing games, and they are just evenly matched from top-to-bottom. The Bruins took the season series winning three out of the four games and I think that continues in this series. Have liked the Bruins team all season and they have been my pick to come out of the East for a while now. Sticking with them.
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