By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m gonna level with you guys here: I was always more worried about the Boston Bruins’ potential first-round opponents than a potential second-round showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
I’m well aware that this is all crazy talk.
But the team speed of the Devils and unknown of a backup goaltender (yeah, Tampa Bay put an end to that real quick, I know) was something I thought would give the Bruins fits. And I thought that Toronto’s overall familiarity with the Bruins — Auston Matthews Era dominance, Frederik Andersen’s career splits against the Bruins, the Mike Babcock Factor, etc. — could be beyond troubling in regards to the opening-round statement needed from the Bruins.
So, let me tell ‘ya now: I think there’s plenty of reasons to pick the Bruins to take the Bolts down in round two.
DISCLAIMER: I know you’re going to tell me that regular-season games do not matter. I know you’re going to tell me that regular-season games do not matter. I know you’re going to tell me that regular-season games do not matter.
But there’s something to be said for the fact that the Bruins have won 19 of their last 25 meetings against the Lightning. 19! If you want to boil it down to simply since Jon Cooper took over as Tampa Bay’s head coach (something that makes the stat more relevant, I’d have to admit) and the Bruins are 16-5-1 against the Lightning. A ton of this has come with the Lightning being among the league’s best and the Bruins as a middling, wannabe contender simply trying to crack the postseason, too.
For whatever reason, this has always been a pretty good matchup for the B’s.
And in recent games, I have to think those reasons have started with quieting down Nikita Kucherov.
Kucherov, who recorded 39 goals and 100 points this season, was held to just three assists in four games against the Bruins this season. In fact, it seemed that the Bruins territorially steamrolled over Kucherov no matter the matchup; Zdeno Chara shut him down in the first head-to-head during the regular season, then Kevan Miller, and even the Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo found a way to successfully make No. 86 disappear on Boston ice.
In fact, Kucherov has just 11 points in 17 career games against the Bruins, which stands as his lowest total against any team he’s faced at least 15 times in his NHL career. That’s beyond impressive if you’re in need of some positivity when looking at the five-goal, 10-point line the ultra-talented winger posted in his opening round domination of the Devils.
Lightning captain (and Kucherov linemate) Steven Stamkos has not fared much better, with just three goals and five points in his last 10 games against Boston. Those numbers are still respectable, sure, but it’s a staunch change from a career start that saw Stammer record 15 goals and 21 points in his first 25 games against the Black and Gold.
And on the topic of both of those players: Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller have found ways to get right under their skin and make these players become straight-up unhinged. Given the physical nature of the playoffs, if those scoring slumps continue, you can expect Bruce Cassidy to send his irritating fourth line out there for some tomfoolery.
But enough about the Bolts’ top talents. What about those donning the Spoked-B?
The David Pastrnak-Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand trio combined for a fantastic 30 points in round one. Pastrnak’s 13 points were actually more than the entire Anaheim Ducks playoff roster (11) had in their series loss to the Sharks. And there’s a sense that they could be even better given the way they were snake-bit with posts and missed shots. For what it’s worth, this group combined for four goals and 12 points against the Bolts in the regular-season series.
And this is where you can look at Rick Nash to make a legitimate impact for the Bruins.
After a frustrating first-round series that saw him score on just one of his 24 shots on goal, the Bruins are counting on the 33-year-old Nash to bury some of the scoring chances he’s relentlessly generated throughout the postseason. (Nash’s 29 all-situation scoring chances for finished as the second-most among all first-round skaters.)
“We know it, though, [and] he knows it. He’s here to produce, so we’re gonna need it going forward,” Cassidy said of Nash during an appearance with Toucher and Rich on Friday. “We got it away with it this series because a kid like DeBrusk comes up and gets it done, and Rick certainly did his part as a linemate, he just didn’t individually finish. So we’re going to ask him and he’s hopefully gonna get a little bit more of that done.”
But the bonus for Nash in this series? He’s going against former teammates such as Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and even Anton Stralman on the Lightning backend. You could, of course, say that they know exactly what Nash wants to do in the attacking zone, yeah. But in this instance, and especially for a player that’s always found a way to get to the high-danger areas of the rink no matter the opposition, you’d almost have to give the edge to No. 61.
If Nash and the Bruins get to those areas of the rink, too, it’s easy to see how they could expose the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. With Vasilevskiy having just one win six career games against the Black and Gold in his career, the season series between the B’s and Bolts told you that the B’s did their scouting on Vasilevskiy and found holes in his game. The 23-year-old Vasilevskiy has also commented on fatigue issues he’s had to battle through this season, and it’s fair to expect a better game from Tuukka Rask in the second round. (I mean, Rask almost has to be better, right?)
Why I like the Bruins in this series goes beyond all of that, though.
When you see how a seven-game war of a series tends to treat teams, it can go one of two ways: They either peter out and collapse under fatigue in round two, or they use it as momentum and storm their way to the third round (at least).
It’s hard for me to look at what the Bruins did in round one and think that they’ll become the former. Nothing about their series with the Maple Leafs seemed physically taxing, nor did the Bruins lose any additional bodies to injury. Another third-period comeback — and this one in a Game 7 — seems oddly reminiscent of what the Bruins did in both 2011 and 2013, where they then took care of teams that were well-rested or seemingly stronger in the second round.
There’s momentum on the B’s side, and it seems all about how they use it.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.