It’s the series most everyone expected to watch, even if it’s a round earlier than was figured.
The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins meet Sunday in Toronto to kick off their Stanley Cup playoffs conference semifinal series. It’s a clash of the top two Eastern clubs from the regular season.
When the league paused in March, the Bruins were atop the NHL standings, the lone 100-point team, and the Lightning stood second in the Eastern Conference. From the round-robin mini-tournament, Tampa became the second seed while the Bruins fell to fourth. Even so, their expected showdown should be a doozy.
“Usually they’re one-goal games and usually there’s some kind of fireworks in the games,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the previous matchups.
Boston won a conference final matchup that went the distance in 2011 en route to a title, while the Lightning claimed a second-round meeting in five games two years ago. Sure, there are several Bruins from the Cup winning team of 2011 still in place, but they have some revenge on their minds this time around.
“This is what makes the Cup worth it, because you’ve got to play teams like Tampa,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand.
“They have a bit of a different make-up now. They compete a lot harder. They are a lot more physical and, obviously, they have a ton of talent. They’re very fast, have a great goalie, they have everything.”
Both clubs are coming off five-game series wins in the opening round. Boston knocked out the Carolina Hurricanes in a series that consisted of five one-goal games, while the Lightning twice claimed overtime wins — including the series opener that went to a fifth extra period — to dispatch the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Those quick series wins will come in handy during their meeting, as this series has two sets of games scheduled on consecutive days. It may cause the Bruins to turn to goaltender Dan Vladar, who took the backup role when No. 1 netminder Tuukka Rask left the team and handed the starter’s reins to Jaroslav Halak. Halak, 35, has not started on consecutive days since Nov. 10-11, 2018.
Certainly, the decision to play so many games so quickly wasn’t expected by coach Bruce Cassidy.
“A little surprised it came out that way (instead) of alternating,” Cassidy said. “Do we play Vladar or do we have to ride Halak? That’s a lot to ask for Jaro.”
Tampa Bay defeated Boston 3-2 in their round-robin meeting during the pre-playoff qualifying round. Tampa also won three of the four meetings in the regular season.
“A round-robin game that could’ve went either way I thought, they scored late with about two minutes to go and we got ourselves back in that game,” Cassidy said. “Right before the break (caused by the coronavirus pandemic) we had two really good games. Both physical, both started to develop some animosity in those games.”
Animosity is great, but with the talent both clubs possess, emotions must be kept in check.
“Going up against a super talented power play like that, you want to minimize the amount of kills (needed). That’s a main focus,” said Lightning forward Barclay Goodrow.
While the Bruins received a boost when David Pastrnak returned to action for their series finale against Carolina and looks ready for this round, the Lightning are still waiting for star forward Steven Stamkos to play for the first time since the re-start. Stamkos has been sidelined due to a lower-body issue. He hasn’t played since Feb. 25 due to a core muscle injury that required surgery.
Stamkos, who had 29 goals and 66 points in the regular season, has been ruled out for Game 1.
“He’s not available right now. He’s rehabbing … I’ll update you when something changes,” Cooper said.
–Field Level Media