Bruins Vs. Lightning Playoff Preview: Analysis, Predictions, X Factors

Here's everything you need to know about the Bruins-Lightning series before the puck drops

A pair of Eastern Conference heavyweights will go toe-to-toe in Toronto for the next week-plus.

The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning, who were responsible for some of this campaign’s most entertaining regular season games, will face off in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Boston advanced after beating the Carolina Hurricanes in five games in the first round, while Tampa knocked out the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, also in five games.

Here’s everything you need to know about Bruins-Lightning:

STATS HEAD-TO-HEAD (REGULAR SEASON)
Goals/Game: Boston 3.24 (9th) | Tampa 3.47 (1st)
Goals Allowed/Game: Boston 2.39 (1st) | Tampa 2.77 (8th)
Power play: Boston 25.2 percent (2rd) | Tampa 23.1 (5th)
Penalty kill: Boston 84.3 (3rd) | Tampa 81.4 (14th)

SEASON SERIES
Lightning won the season series 3-1
Oct. 17: Tampa 4-3 (SO)
Dec. 12: Tampa 3-2
March 3: Boston 2-1
March 7: Tampa 5-2

SCHEDULE (all times ET)
Game 1 — Sunday, Aug. 23 at 8 p.m. (NBC)
Game 2 — Tuesday, Aug. 25 at 7 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 3 — Wednesday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. (NBCSN)
Game 4 — Friday, Aug. 28 at 7:30 p.m. (USA)
Game 5 — Sunday, Aug. 30 at TBD (TBD)
Game 6 — Tuesday, Sept. 1 at TBD (TBD)
Game 7 — Wednesday, Sept. 2 at TBD (TBD)

FORWARDS
Bruins Projected Lines
Brad Marchand–Patrice Bergeron–David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk–David Krejci–Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie–Charlie Coyle–Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom–Sean Kuraly–Chris Wagner

Lightning Projected Lines
Ondrej Palat–Brayden Point–Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn–Anthony Cirelli–Tyler Johnson
Barclay Goodrow–Yanni Gourde–Blake Coleman
Patrick Maroon–Mitchell Stephens–Cedric Paquette

A compelling case could be made that the Lightning have the advantage here if Steven Stamkos returns at some point in the series and is at full health. But Boston’s top line is what it is, and the second line played at a high level against the Hurricanes, and if that remains the case the Bruins on paper have the better first, second and fourth lines.

But the third units are interesting. The Lightning have found some chemistry with Gourde pivoting the Bolts’ two big trade deadline acquisitions. That comes as the Bruins have struggled to find consistency on the wings with their third group. The way the third lines match up in this series will be an interesting storyline to follow.

Advantage: Bruins

DEFENSE
Bruins Projected Pairings
Zdeno Chara–Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug–Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk–Connor Clifton

Lightning Projected Pairings
Victor Hedman–Zach Bogosian
Ryan McDonagh–Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev–Kevin Shattenkirk

For one, Tampa has far and away the best overall defenseman in this series with Victor Hedman. That’s indisputable. But as for who gets the edge, that depends on which version you’re getting of some players.

Zdeno Chara has been a monster on the penalty kill, but he’s had some tough moments 5-on-5. Torey Krug has another level he can reach in the attacking zone. Ryan McDonagh has had some ugly stretches on the Lightning’s blue line in the bubble.

But while the Bruins have nice depth in the bottom pairing, any of the D-men they put with Grzelcyk on that duo will be hard-pressed to outperform the Sergachev-Shattenkirk unit. That’s a solid third pairing.

Advantage: Lightning

GOALIES
Bruins Goaltenders
Jaroslav Halak
Dan Vladar

Lightning Goaltenders
Andrei Vasilevskiy
Curtis McElhinney

The question here is what do you value most. Vasilevskiy’s ceiling is higher, but his floor is lower. Vasilevskiy can play at a level above Halak, but he also can be a complete puddle in a way Halak usually isn’t.

You also have to take the backups into account here, since the NHL made the inexplicable decision to schedule back-to-backs. McElhinney isn’t exactly Patrick Roy, but with Tuukka Rask opting out, the Bruins will be forced to turn to Dan Vladar (zero games NHL experience) or Maxime Lagace (17 games). Not ideal.

Advantage: Lightning

X FACTOR
Nick Ritchie

While the Bruins haven’t explicitly said they traded for Ritchie with a series against the Lightning in mind, but you can read between the lines. He’s a big body that plays a heavy game, and against a team like Tampa that has some big boys, Ritchie being an impactful player is important for the Bruins.

Not only would Ritchie coming around indicate that some issues with consistency on the third line probably have been solved, but it also gives the B’s a better chance of imposing their will physically.

And for what it’s worth, Ritchie’s best games in a Bruins uniform have come against Tampa. They really need him to show up.

PREDICTION
Nothing better than couching a take, so here we go: This really could go either way. But as long as Vasilevskiy isn’t a mess, it feels like this is the Lightning’s series to lose

Boston’s middle six plays a big role in all of this. If the third line gets going and the second unit continues playing well, then the Bruins will have a considerable advantage up front. But going off what we’ve seen this season (and during the restart), we can’t just bank entirely on that totally coming together, especially against a gifted team like the Lightning.

Thus…

Prediction: Lightning in seven

Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images