Boston Bruins

Mar 16, 2019; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) and Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Cam Atkinson (13) battle for the puck during the third period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

With just a 48-hour turnaround, the second round has arrived to Boston and will begin tonight at TD Garden, as the Bruins will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

“If you could draw it up perfectly, I think if we started tomorrow it would have been the best scenario, so we get another day to take our breath, come in here today, get back into battle,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy offered following Thursday morning’s skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “Honestly, I don’t know, someone would have to give me the analytics on what’s the exact amount of days of rest, I think sometimes it depends on how healthy you are coming out, do you need an extra day or are the guys ready to go. You want to build off that high that you just came out of, that’s it, you play the hand your dealt, I think our guys are good at that, got a veteran group, they’re not going to worry about what could have, should have.

“I heard someone blame it on Cher the other day,” Cassidy continued. “I like Cher from way back in Sonny and Cher days. I’m not going to rain on her parade, we’re ready to go, it is what it is.”

Whether it’s Cher’s fault or not, here’s your second-round primer…

Regular season review

This season series was basically the opposite of the B’s and Maple Leafs (they did not meet after mid-January), as the Bruins and Blue Jackets went head-to-head three times over the final 13 games of the regular season.

That allowed the B’s to go against a fully-loaded Jackets team — they added Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel to their roster via two separate trades with the Senators — and in playoff-like conditions given CBJ’s desperate push to nail down a wild card spot. It played out to two victories for the Bruins, including an overtime win in a Mar. 16 meeting at TD Garden, and with Boston outscoring Columbus 12-10 over that three-game series.

“They were clearly in the dogfight just to get in,” Cassidy recalled. “We were trying to solidify second place, so little different animal. They were a little more desperate than us. I still thought they were good games; we came to play. Game here was a 1-1 game if I remember went into OT or shootout. Out there, they got the jump on us the first game, we got them on the second time up there. So, I thought they were good hockey games.”

Postseason review

But before you fall over the regular-season series and apply it to this second-round showing, you absolutely cannot sleep on the fact that the Blue Jackets come to Boston after sweeping the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning.

It was a legitimately unbelievable effort from the Blue Jackets, too, as they overcome an 0-3 hole in Game 1 to capture a 4-3 win, and outscored Tampa Bay 19-5 in the final 11 periods of the series overall. 19-5! The Blue Jackets really did this on the back of their power play, which converted on five of their 10 chances (their 50% power-play percentage is tops this spring).

It was clear that the Blue Jackets simply punched the Bolts in their mouth again and again and left the Bolts stunned.

“I would suspect it would be a little more physical, but I don’t want to sit here and say automatically it’s going to be this bloodbath out there,” Bruce Cassidy said when asked if he expects this series to be more physical than Bruins-Leafs. “I just thought Columbus, when I watched them, reloaded really well against Tampa, took away time and space. Some of that was with speed, some of it was with just smart defensive play. That’s what I expect they’ll do.”

The Bruins, meanwhile, return to TD Garden ice just two days after successfully overcoming their 3-2 series deficit and eliminating the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 for the second straight season.

This will be the first playoff meeting between these two franchises. This is also the first time Columbus has advanced out of the first round in their franchise history.

In net

The Blue Jackets come to Boston rolling on the vibes of Sergei Bobrovsky‘s first truly spectacular playoff showing. After surrendering three goals on 13 shots in the first period of Game 1, Bobrovsky buckled down and went on to stop 99 of the next 104 shots thrown his way (a .952 save percentage) en route to the four-game sweep. But Bob has hardly dominated when it comes to his head-to-heads with the Bruins. In fact, prior to Vegas expansion, the Bruins were the team Bobrovsky chased to collect wins against all 30 teams in his NHL career, failing to record a win until his eighth meeting against the Bruins.

Overall, Bobrovsky has three wins and an .889 save percentage in 11 starts against the Bruins.

Like Bobrovsky, Tuukka Rask comes into this one riding the momentum of what was perhaps his first truly great postseason series since his 2013 run to the Stanley Cup Final. In seven games against the Maple Leafs, the 32-year-old Rask posted a .928 save percentage (a .938 save percentage at even-strength), and was nails for the B’s in Games 4 through 7.

Rask has nine wins and a .904 save percentage in 14 career starts against the Jackets.

Mar 12, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask (40) makes a save against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the first period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Key matchups

I’m curious to see which Columbus line draws the Bergeron assignment. Cassidy could opt to stick Bergeron on the Columbus top line with Pierre-Luc Dubois between Artemi Panarin and Oliver Bjorkstrand, or he could stick them against Matt Duchene line with Dzingel and Cam Atkinson on the wings. The Bergeron Line seemed to transform into more of a shutdown line once Danton Heinen was bumped up in place of David Pastrnak, and that’s how the Bruins are expected to begin this series, so perhaps putting them against the speedier Duchene line will be Cassidy’s plan out of the gate.

It’s also worth watching how the Bruins match up against a punishing Columbus third line with Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson. Given some of the Bruins’ size issues on the backend — Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk are your 5-foot-9 left-shot defenders and the effective-but-slim Connor Clifton is going to get back in action for Game 1 — that line could ultimately force the Bruins to tinker with their pairings in search of a more size-friendly matchup that keeps their battered D upright.

The X-Factors

This really does feel like a series built for Charlie McAvoy. Boston’s most effective two-way defender, it really felt as if McAvoy was more confident as last round’s series went on, and I think his best work came in their Game 7. He activated when necessary, but also showed the awareness to get back and help break up plays the other way.

We’re still waiting for David Pastrnak to get his game going. He had two goals in Game 4, sure, but other than that his opening round was a big bowl of nothing. But if there’s a series to get No. 88 back on track, it’s this one; Pastrnak scored one goal in one 2018-19 game against Columbus, but enters play with four goals and 13 points in 11 career meetings against them.

Given the problems Morgan Rielly created for the Bruins in round one, Seth Jones seems like a defender who could wreak similar havoc on the Bruins if they’re caught sleeping. An incredibly active defender at both ends, Jones finished the first round with two goals and four points, and quarterbacked a power-play unit that simply devastated Tampa Bay.

How important is Cam Atkinson? A 41-goal scorer this past season, the 5-foot-8 Atkinson tallied at least one goal in 33 games, and the Blue Jackets won all but six of those 33 contests. In other words, when Atkinson’s going, that typically means the Jackets are going with him. Now, the problem for the Connecticut-born Atkinson on that front is that he really didn’t do much against the Bruins this past season (he totaled one assist on six shots in three head-to-heads), and that he hasn’t done much against the Bruins as a whole, with just two goals in 11 games against the B’s over the last four years. The Jackets have their share of weapons, of course, but Atkinson is the perfect secondary scorer that they’ll need to bump off the B’s.

The Bruins will win if…

  • They ride the momentum. Listen, we can talk about the fact that the Bruins are probably feeling a little sore given the seven-game war they just went through, but the Blue Jackets have not played in game action in well over a week now. History suggests that that should benefit the Bruins out of the gate, so long as they take advantage of it.
  • Brandon Carlo continues to show that he can handle this moment. I thought Carlo had a tough start, but rebounded well and finished Boston’s first round as one of their better defenders. Same for Grzelcyk. This Columbus team can beat you in a variety of ways, and making sure your backend is up to that task when it comes at you in waves is the key.
  • The first round was a mirage for Sergei Bobrovsky and he reverts back to what he was when the Jackets were sliding.
  • Pastrnak gets his game right. It’s been stressed again and again, but Pastrnak hasn’t looked right this postseason. It’s tough to imagine the Bruins being able to successfully escape multiple rounds without real production from his stick.

The Blue Jackets will win if…

  • They beat the bag out of the Bruins. I think the layoff rust is going to be real for the Blue Jackets, but a strong opening period in Game 1 can throw that idea right out the window and put them in control of this series. The Bruins have been a dominant home team this season — which is exactly what you said about the Lightning before Columbus came into Game 1 and ripped that advantage away from them. John Tortorella might throw a table, too, which is always fun.
  • Josh Anderson proves to be a Tom Wilson-like matchup incapable of being slowed down by any B’s defenseman besides Zdeno Chara, opening up better matchups for the Blue Jackets’ skill players.
  • Their power play continues to convert on half of their opportunities.
  • The first round was a mirage for Tuukka Rask and he reverts back to what he was in the final month of the season.

Official prediction: I think this is going to be a back-alley brawl kind of series — with more board battles and post-whistle nastiness than highlight reel goals — but ultimately I think the Bruins pull this one out in six games. This matchup is simply more their speed than their first-round showdown with the Maple Leafs, and I’d like to think the Bruins have some momentum on their side while the Blue Jackets enter this series with a long layoff between games.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.