The clubs took two very different routes to get to Round 2. The Blue Jackets sprinted into the playoffs in a tight Eastern Conference race with help from a handful of deadline acquisitions, then pulled off one of the craziest upsets we’ve ever seen by sweeping the No. 1-seed Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins, meanwhile, were one of the first teams to clinch a playoff berth and then went the distance in their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, ultimately winning Game 7 at home.
This series might be an interesting case study in momentum versus rest. The Blue Jackets had all the momentum on their side in Round 1 but by the time the puck drops on Game 1 Thursday night, they’ll have had more than a week of rest while the Bruins will have just barely caught their breath after closing out their seven-game series with thrilling back-to-back wins two nights earlier.
With the Lightning out of the way, the door is wide open in the East. Here’s a closer look at the Columbus-Boston series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Columbus: 50.21 CF% (12th), 52.38 GF% (11th), .915 SV% (23rd), 8.81 SH% (6th), 1.004 PDO (11th)
Boston: 53.07 CF% (6th), 55.12 GF% (4th), .931 SV% (3rd), 7.34 SH% (26th), 1.005 PDO (10th)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Columbus: 15.4 PP% (28th), 85.0 PK% (1st), 256 GF (12th), 231 GA (11th)
Boston: 25.9 PP% (3rd), 79.9 PK% (16th), 257 GF (11th), 212 GA (3rd)
The story of the first round: Honestly, the biggest story of this Round 2 matchup is that the Blue Jackets are in it after sweeping Tampa Bay.
Things didn’t exactly start off so hot though. Twenty minutes into the series, Tampa had tallied three goals on 13 shots and looked downright unstoppable. Sergei Bobrovsky’s poor performances of playoffs past were drudged up once again, and it looked like Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s bold trade deadline moves might have all been for naught.
Head coach John Tortorella’s decision to send Bobrovsky back to the blue paint for the second period proved to be the most important one of the year: Bobrovsky shut out the Lightning the remainder of the game while the team in front of him rallied back with four unanswered goals to shock the Lightning and take Game 1. He looked like a whole different netminder — and so did the team in front of him, whose newfound chemistry saw special teams excel (they went five-for-10 on the power play to lead the league in that category) and newcomers like Matt Duchene light up the scoreboard with a team-leading three goals and seven points.
While the Blue Jackets’ Round 1 story was short and oh-so-sweet, the Bruins needed all seven games to settle the score against the Maple Leafs for the second straight year.
Though caught on their heels in Game 1 against the speedy squad from Toronto, the Bruins leaned on scoring depth and experience throughout the series and capitalized on Maple Leafs mistakes to ultimately move on after a seven-game, back-and-forth affair.
Much to the ire of Leafs fans, it was Brad Marchand who lead the way for the Bruins once again. He led Boston in goals (4), assists (5) and overall points (9) through seven games and fired 28 shots at Frederik Andersen. Behind him, Boston’s scoring depth made them a tough team to match up against. Tortorella will surely have his hands full.
Mind you, he’s had plenty of time to prepare.
Blue Jackets X-Factor: Twenty minutes into Round 1, Bobrovsky was looking like one of the biggest reasons for what looked like a quick Blue Jackets exit. Four games later, he was the biggest reason for his club advancing to Round 2. This new Playoff Bobrovsky must show up again if Columbus is to get any further in the playoffs. Compare his pre-2019 playoff numbers to this spring’s stats, and it’s night and day.
The Russian netminder went into Game 1 with a career playoff save percentage of .898 and a 3.37 goals-against average. His numbers this year? A 2.01 goals-against average and .932 save percentage. He held Lighting stars Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point to just a single goal all series, and shut out Nikita Kucherov completely. Not a single Tampa Bay scorer was able to solve him twice.
Bruins X-Factor: Tuukka Rask was the difference in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs, and will obviously have to be at the top of his game all series against the Blue Jackets, whose 4.75 goals for average ranks them atop their post-season peers.
But the biggest key to victory over the Maple Leafs was the role players and special teams. In Game 7, for example, it wasn’t the usual suspects of David Pastrnak or Patrice Bergeron or Marchand who got Boston the victory. It was guys like first-year Bruin Joakim Nordstrom, deadline acquisitions Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle, and fourth-liner Sean Kuraly who got the job done.
Special teams played a huge role, too. Their 43.8 power play percentage ranks second only to Columbus (50 per cent), and the clubs are almost even on the penalty kill (Boston killed 81.3 per cent compared to Columbus’s 83.3) leaving little room for error.
Ryan Murray, upper-body (injured reserve)
Adam McQuaid, head (day-to-day)
Markus Nutivaara, undisclosed (day-to-day)
Chris Wagner, lower-body (day-to-day)
Kevan Miller, lower-body (day-to-day)
John Moore, upper-body (day-to-day)
Sean Kuraly, fractured hand (day-to-day)