The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs took the long road in Round 1 and now the Tampa Bay Lightning must wait one more day to find out who their opponent will be in Round 2.
It seems the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are allergic to doing things the easy way. The Quarterfinal Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs is nearing its end. Every surviving team knows who their opponent will be in the next round…except for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Tampa Bay Lightning, who defeated the New Jersey Devils 4-1 in Round 1, will have to wait one more day to learn whether they will play the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 2. Apparently, the Toronto Maple Leafs weren’t quite ready to start the off-season and pushed a Game 7 from the big, bad Bruins.
The good news is, the Tampa Bay Lightning is at a bit of an advantage in this scenario. In addition to having home ice advantage throughout the round, the Lightning has time to regroup before starting the next round. The time in between rounds will allow their bodies to recover and their minds to refocus.
This is something neither the Bruins or Maple Leafs will have heading into the next series. Granted, there is a slight advantage the Bruins or Maple Leafs will hold over the Bolts. Either opponent, whether it is the Bruins or Maple Leafs, will still be hot and ready to go. Depending on the team, each scenario has its advantages.
Slaying The Big, Bad Bruins
The Tampa Bay Lightning had more than their fair share of trouble with the Bruins this season. In fact, the painful fact of the matter is the Bruins were able to top the Bolts in their first three meetings of the season. It all started back on November 29 when the Lightning made their way to the TD Garden in Boston.
The Bruins went up on the Bolts 3-0 through the first period and a half. The Lightning would attempt to battle back in the final period and a half, but it turned out to be a classic case of “too little, too late” for the Bolts. Ultimately, they would fall 3-2 in their first meeting of the season.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The next meeting between these two Atlantic Division titans wouldn’t come until March 17. This time it would be the Bruins making their way to the Sunshine State to take on the Bolts at the Amalie Arena. Unfortunately for the Bolts, the result would be much like their first meeting of the season. This time, the Bruins would shutout the Bolts 3-0.
Their third meeting of the season would be reminiscent of their first meeting of the season. The Bruins would go up 2-0 in the first period. The Lightning would attempt to come from behind and seize control of the game, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. The Bolts would fall 4-2 to the Bruins.
Now, the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins would have a much different result than any of their meetings over the course of the season. The Bruins would once again make their way to the Amalie Arena.
This time, it would be the Lightning who was doing the shutting out. The Lightning put four goals past Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask to shut down and shut out the Bruins 4-0. This victory was seen throughout the Bolts Nation as the catapult the Lightning needed to seize their opportunity and carry their momentum through the remainder of the regular season and through the first round.
If the Bruins defeat the Maple Leafs tomorrow night, the question will become how the Tampa Bay Lightning build off their victory over the Bruins and keep from falling back into old habits. The answer is simple. The Bolts need to continue to play their own game and not get pulled into any of the Bruins antics.
The biggest thing is the Lightning needs to stay out of the penalty box. The Bolts penalty kill has improved over the course of the first round, but there is no realm in which it’s advisable to give a team like the Bruins an opportunity with the man advantage.
The Bruins are an incredibly physical team and the Lightning needs to be prepared to give it right back to them. However, it will be imperative to keep those hits legal and avoid any sort of penalty, or even worse, supplemental discipline.
One player the Lightning defense will need to shut down is Bruins forward David Pastrnak. Pastrnak leads his team in all manners scoring with four goals and seven assists for a total of 11 points over the course of the six games he’s played in the postseason.
Another player the Lightning will need to neutralize is Brad Marchand. Marchand has a reputation in the National Hockey League for a number of questionable hits, many of which have caused injury to his opponents. The absolute last thing the Lightning needs if they plan on having a deep playoff run is a key member of their lineup falling to an injury.
The Lightning has everything they need in order to get the job done against the Bruins. The important thing for the Lightning to do is to continue to play their own game. Play aggressive with the puck, strike first (and early), shoot from the dirty areas, and play a consistent 60 minutes of hockey.
Blowing Away The Maple Leafs
A series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Toronto Maple Leafs would look significantly different than a series against the Boston Bruins. The Bolts and Leafs are two highly-skilled and refined teams who, for the most part, rely more on their skilled forwards than their physicality.
There is another glaring difference between the Lightning’s regular season series against the Bruins and the Maple Leafs. The Lightning was able to capture the season series between them and the Maple Leafs by the score of 3-1. This series got started much later in the season than the one against the Bruins.
The first meeting between the Lightning and Maple Leafs was on January 2 when the Lightning traveled to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It was there the Lightning would shut out the Maple Leafs in front of their hometown crowd by the score of 2-0.
Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy definitely got off to a good start in the New Year. After blanking the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-0 on New Year’s Eve, the Russian goaltender would topple the Maple Leafs in similar fashion just two days into the New Year.
The next meeting between these two teams would be a little over a month later, on February 12. The encounter would once again be at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. Unfortunately for the Bolts, the result would be much different this time around.
The Maple Leafs went up 3-1 in the first period, forcing the Lightning to make up a lot of ground in the remaining 40 minutes of hockey. While the Bolts would come back to tie the game, the Maple Leafs would tip the scales with a goal from James van Riemsdyk.
The third meeting between these two teams would take an overtime period and a shootout, but when the final buzzer sounded, the Lightning would emerge victoriously 4-3 at the Amalie Arena in Tampa. It would be Lightning forward Brayden Point who would sink the game-winner.
The fourth and final regular-season meeting between these two teams would come on March 20. The result would remain the same from the previous encounter, but this time it wouldn’t take any extra time. The Lightning would defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3 and officially clinch the season series.
While the Lightning seemingly had the number of the Maple Leafs during the regular season, things change in the postseason. Everything is elevated in the postseason, most of all, the passion of the players. A battle between the Lightning and Maple Leafs could be exactly what playoff hockey needs.
Leading the way for the Maple Leafs is forward Mitchell Marner. Marner has two goals and six assists for a total of eight points in the six postseason games he’s played thus far. Unlike the Bruins, who have one clear scoring leader, another player holds the top spot on the Maple Leafs in goals. James van Riemsdyk holds the top spot on his team in goals with three.
The biggest key to defeating the Maple Leafs in a Round 2 series will be consistency. The Bolts will need to come out of the tunnel strong and maintain this pace throughout the entirety of the game. The Lightning will also need to knock the Maple Leafs off their game with a moderate amount of physicality.
Players like Ryan Callahan, J.T. Miller, and Braydon Coburn were on fire during Round 1 and if they can keep up the physicality in Round 2, they could help give the Lightning the advantage they need to make it through to the next stage in their postseason journey.
If the Lightning ends up going against the Maple Leafs in Round 2, the Bolts will need to be rock solid between the pipes. Andrei Vasilevskiy has been stellar thus far. The good news is, with a couple of days in between now and the start of the next round, Vasy (and the rest of the team) will have time to rest and refocus.
The Lightning will need standout performances from players like Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn, who have been leading the way during the first round. The Maple Leafs play a very similar game to the Lightning. When the final buzzer sounds, it will ultimately come down to the team who wants it the most.
When All Is Said And Done…
At the end of the day, it matters not who the Tampa Bay Lightning plays in the next round. If the Bolts want to make it to the Eastern Conference Final, and even the Stanley Cup Final, they will have to be the better team in all situations.
There are a lot of unknowns at this point and time, the biggest being who the Lightning will face in Round 2. Fortunately, the Lightning and the rest of the Bolts Nation won’t have to wait much longer to have some of the bigger questions answered. Tomorrow night, the Bruins and Maple Leafs will meet for the final time.
In the end, there can only be one. Will it be the Boston Bruins or the Toronto Maple Leafs who will advance to the next round and face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Semifinal? Just like the rest of the hockey world, we’ll all have to watch and find out.