2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Preview: Bruins vs. Lightning

Boston Bruins' Brad Marchand and Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy eye an incoming shot (Winslow Townson/AP)

As the first- and second-overall teams face off in one Western Conference semifinal (Nashville-Winnipeg), the Eastern Conference’s second round will showcase the third- and fourth-best NHL teams when the dominant-at-both-ends Boston Bruins meet the all-offence Tampa Bay Lightning, who won the Atlantic Division and home-ice advantage by a single point.

These teams played four times all season, but three of those games came in the final four weeks, so we could have a better gauge on how these teams matchup than usual. The Lightning were an offensive juggernaut all season long and scored a whopping 17 more goals than the next best team, but where their problems come is on defence.

The Lightning allowed the sixth-most shots in the NHL from Jan. 1 to the end of the season, more than 14 other playoff teams, and though Andrei Vasilevskiy was named a Vezina Trophy finalist last week, his numbers took a hit in the second half when the workload increased. Tampa Bay was even outshot by the Devils in Round 1, though Vasilevskiy was excellent again with a .941 save percentage.

The Bruins may not have scored as often as Tampa Bay, but they did close the gap in the second half and are the far better team on defence. Boston really can play successful any way — they were the only NHL team this season to finish top six in goals for, bottom six in goals against, and top three in both power-play and penalty-kill rates.

Boston’s Round 1 opponent, Toronto, was similar to Tampa Bay in how much it leaned on its offence and the Bruins nearly ran away with that series. The Maple Leafs did fight all the way back to force Game 7 of course, but when everything was on the line Boston’s defence clamped down hard and the offence exploded for seven goals. That’s what this team is all about.

Boston and Tampa Bay had the top two spots nailed down in the Atlantic for months and may have been looking forward to this matchup for that long. It figures to bring us fast hockey with a ton of goals and high-end skill all over the ice.

Both teams are still working towards recovering from off years a season ago, Boston being knocked out in Round 1 and Tampa Bay missing the playoffs altogether. This season, with Stanley Cup aspirations in tow, whichever team loses in Round 2 will finish short of expectations.

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5-on-5 via Corsica.Hockey
Boston: 53.8 CF% (2nd), 54.49 GF% (4th), .923 SP% (14th), 7.82 SH% (13th), 100.16 PDO (15th)

Tampa Bay: 51.62 CF% (7th), 57.18 GF% (1st), .929 SP% (5th), 9.35 SH% (1st), 102.28 PDO (1st)

Determined by percentiles created for a variety of statistics and weighed equally to give each team a grade out of 10 for offence and defence (seven for 5-on-5 and three for special teams). These numbers are then averaged to come up with a power number to measure a team’s all-around play.

Tampa Bay 9.10 (2nd) 5.20 (13th) 7.15 (2nd)
Boston 6.96 (6th) 9.21 (1st) 8.08 (1st

Boston: 23.5 PP% (4th), 83.7 PK% (3rd), 267 GF (6th), 211 GA (4th)

Tampa Bay: 23.9 PP% (3rd), 76.1 PK% (28th), 290 GF (1st), 234 GA (13th)

Boston: 3-1-0

Tampa Bay: 1-3-0

Round 1 Strengths for Boston: The top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, hockey’s best, was a force against Toronto, combining for 30 points in seven games. When this line went cold on offence, even if it was still getting the majority of shots and scoring chances, the Bruins struggled; when they were on, the Bruins were dominant.

On the back end, Zdeno Chara, even at 41 years old, confounded Toronto’s offence with his strength and reach and was Boston’s most-used defenceman. The Bruins allowed just 28.1 shots against per game in Round 1, and got 35 of their own per game, maintaining a high level of play at both ends of the ice from the regular season that few teams can match.

Round 1 Strengths for Tampa Bay: Nikita Kucherov torched the Devils for 10 points in five games — he, along with the rest of the first line (Steven Stamkos, J.T. Miller), dominated New Jersey and accounted for seven of the Lightning’s 18 opening-round goals. Even more important in Kucherov’s production was that all five of his goals came at even strength. But by now we know Tampa Bay’s No. 1 attribute is its offence and, specifically, that top line. The most important strength for the Lightning that needs to continue if they are to extend this playoff run another couple rounds is the play of Vasilevskiy in net.

The Lightning’s defence was a troubling point for them this season — they were bottom five in shots against from Jan. 1 onwards and it didn’t improve much after acquiring Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline. In Round 1 against New Jersey, the Lightning allowed an average of 34.2 shots per game, the most of any advancing team. The key difference is that, in the second half of the regular season, Vasilevskiy’s save percentage was a well below-average .905, but in Round 1 he was stellar again, stopping 94.1 per cent of his shots, the highest rate of any Eastern Conference goalie. The Vezina Trophy finalist evens out Tampa’s porous defence, which will be put to a much stiffer test in Round 2.

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Bruins’ X-Factor: Tuukka Rask was on the verge of being pulled in Game 7 versus Toronto and may have only been saved by the defence in front of him, which kept the Maple Leafs without a shot for nearly half of the third period. On one hand, the Bruins netminder can play at an MVP level and steal games for Boston — he allowed just one goal in Games 1 and 4 when he was at his best. On the other, Rask can have bad stretches, which doesn’t bode well in a short playoff series. His .899 save percentage in Round 1 was easily the worst of any goalie left in the second round. Tampa’s top strength is its offence and if Rask has a bad game or two, it might be enough to sink Boston’s Stanley Cup hopes.

Lightning’s X-Factor: Three of Tampa’s top four scorers against New Jersey came from the top line, but while secondary scoring wasn’t necessarily a problem for them in Round 1, it will be put to the test against the Bruins. While Auston Matthews’ top line in Toronto struggled to produce against Boston, Mitch Marner and his line found great success and was a huge factor in their bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit. Tampa Bay needs to follow suit and find that same formula in their second unit with Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Brayden Point, who combined for four goals against New Jersey.

Boston: David Pastrnak (5-8-13), Brad Marchand (3-6-9), Torey Krug (2-7-9)

Tampa Bay: Nikita Kucherov (5-5-10), Steven Stamkos (1-5-6), Alex Killorn (4-1-5)


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