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By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter:  @yanlatz

The Boston Bruins are set to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game One of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Thursday night at TD Garden. After a thrilling game seven win over the Toronto Maple Leafs just two days ago, the Bruins hope the momentum will carry over into the second round against the Blue Jackets who stunned the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning with a first-round sweep.

The road to the Stanley Cup Finals will go through Boston as the Black ‘N Gold are the highest remaining seed in the postseason. For the first time in NHL postseason history, all four division winners were eliminated in the first round with all four Wild Card teams advancing.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins out of the playoffs in a stunning turn of events and similarly the Columbus Blue Jackets swept the President’s Trophy and record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning out of the first round. On Wednesday night, the Carolina Hurricanes defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in double-overtime to move on.

In the Western Conference, the San Jose Sharks defeated the defending Western Conference Champion Vegas Golden Knights in overtime of game seven to move onto face Colorado who also completed a stunning upset when they beat the Western Conference top seed Calgary Flames in only five games. In recent seasons, the Nashville Predators have been a large favorite to come out of the west. However, this season was different when the Dallas Stars defeated the Preds in six games to propel Dallas into the West Semifinals.

In January, the St. Louis Blues were dead last in the NHL but stormed back to make a playoff appearance in the Central Division. They handled the Winnipeg Jets in six games and have moved onto the second round to face the Dallas Stars.

The Stanley Cup Playoff first round has been incredibly fun to watch with the upsets and storylines in each series. With these upsets, the Bruins remain as the highest seed in the playoffs and means that they will have home-ice advantage for the rest of the playoffs. This bodes well for the Bruins as the B’s went 29-9-3 at the TD Garden in the regular season and won a pivotal game seven at home on Tuesday night 5-1 over the Maple Leafs.

With the results around the league, it can be easy for the Bruins to look ahead to the Conference Finals and even the Stanley Cup finals because of some of the favorites being out of the race in the first round. However, it is essential that the Bruins do not look past Columbus in the second round series.

The Blue Jackets finished as the second Wild Card team in the East and nearly missed the postseason after a fairly strong but inconsistent season. After making the dance, they faced the heavy cup favorite in Tampa who tied the single-season record for most wins with 62. A lot of people picked Tampa to sweep Columbus but instead, John Tortorella and his team shocked the sports world and swept them instead. With strong goaltending, team defense, and production from their superstar forwards including deadline acquisition Matt Duchene who leads the team with three goals and four assists for seven points, the Blue Jackets are a strong team that should not be overlooked just because of their seeding. Sergei Bobrovsky has played like his Vezina self posting a .932% save percentage this playoff and shut down the superstars for the Lightning in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

It was said by fans and some media members in Boston that after the slow start against the Toronto Maple Leafs, that the Bruins might have overlooked the Leafs and were already thinking about facing Tampa Bay in the second round. Both the team and the fans should not take Tortorella’s squad lightly. The Blue Jackets have proven to the hockey world that they belong in the playoffs and are a strong team and the Bruins should not take them lightly. The Bruins powerplay helped them out in their series against Toronto and went seven for sixteen on powerplay chances in the series which was second in powerplay percentage during the first round only behind the Blue Jackets who buried five PP goals on 10 opportunities against Tampa Bay. Alternatively, the Blue Jackets were tied for the top penalty kill percentage in the regular season and killed off 83% of the Lightning PP opportunities in round number one. 

It is exciting to look at the remaining Eastern Conference teams and to realize that the road to the Finals goes through TD Garden, but the Bruins and the Bruins faithful must focus on the Blue Jackets should not think that this will be an easy series — because it wont. However, as it is encouraging and exciting to see an “easier” road to the finals but as we all know there is no easy route to the championship especially in hockey with every team deserving to be here.

This is another tough matchup for the Bruins who will be battling a very good team in a best of seven series and will be another fantastic coaching matchup between Bruce Cassidy and John Tortorella. The Bruins must come out strong against Columbus who haven’t played in nine days and set the tone for the series and continue their strong play that emerged in game six and seven against Toronto.