By Bryan Murphy | Follow Me on Twitter @bryan_murphy10
The Bruins won the President’s Trophy as the top team in the NHL. However, the honor of the top seed in the Eastern Conference may not be going towards Boston.
With the NHL’s 24-team playoff format, the Bruins, along with the other top four teams in the Eastern Conference, will play a round-robin in order to determine the No. 1-4 seeds. The other teams are the Washington Capitals, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Philadelphia Flyers.
In the regular season, the Bruins went 3-3-4 against the combination of the three teams. The Bruins did not have a winning record against any of them, going 1-0-2 against the Flyers, 1-2-1 against the Lightning, and 1-1-1 against the Capitals. But the Bruins played competitively in all of those games, with seven of the 10 matchup being one-goal games and two out of the other three were finished with a two-goal difference (the outlier being the Bruins’ 7-3 throttling of the Capitals on Dec. 23).
Now, with the much-extended layoff, nobody has any idea what any of these teams will look at come playoff time. It’s almost unfair to analyze what happened in the regular season and predict what will happen in the playoffs but hey, you have to look somewhere.
If the season had not shut down and the Bruins were squaring off for a normal playoff series, there probably would have been no worse team to face then the Philadelphia Flyers.
The final game before the break was a 2-0 win for the Bruins over the Flyers, snapping a nine-game winning streak for Philly. The Flyers were primed to be the hottest team in hockey heading into the postseason. But now? That momentum is long gone.
You have to go back to 2011 to find the last time the Bruins and Flyers squared off in the postseason. The Bruins made quick business of the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-0 sweep, just one year removed from the epic collapse of a 3-0 series lead and 3-0 Game 7 lead for Boston against Philadelphia.
Simon Gagne still haunts me to this day.
The 2020 Flyers have a deep offensive group. Travis Konecny had a breakout season, Kevin Hayes showed he very much was worth the money. The core of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek are still performing at a high level. It’s a fairly young team that has Alain Vigneault’s postseason experience at the helm. And it’s a team that no one should want to match up with.
The real test will be in the net. Carter Hart will dip his toes into the NHL postseason for the first time. He’s a young kid but a stud in the making. The Flyers very much will rely on him to make a Jordan Binnington-Esque run in these playoffs.
Ultimately, the Flyers were one of the teams that were hurt the most by the hiatus and I think will benefit the most, along with the Bruins, by the round-robin to get their momentum back.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa had a slow start to the season and looked to be that same team that was shockingly swept in the first round of the playoffs last season despite a record year. But the Bolts have been surging and that dangerous team that the NHL saw all last year seems to be once again at peak performance.
The Bruins and the Lightning met in the 2018 playoffs where after Boston jumped out to a 1-0 series lead, proceeded to drop the next four games to close the second round.
All four regular-season games between the two were quite even, with the three of the four games being one-goal matchups. The two teams even say an increase in the intensity and could be the beginning of a hateful rivalry between the two.
The Lightning are at their best when they find the balance between skill and physicality. I think in the playoffs last year, players like Nikita Kucherov focused too much on the physical side that it took away from their offensive game. The Bruins set a perfect example of how to continue to play the game hard, but don’t completely stray away from their offensive abilities.
With the Lightning adding players like Pat Maroon this offseason and Barclay Goodrow at the trade deadline, it gives them more sandpaper that we’ve seen is still very much needed to win a Stanley Cup. Add those to an already lethal lineup with Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman, Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and others, the Lightning provide, I believe, the best all-around roster out of any team.
The Capitals have given the Bruins absolute fits for years. In the last 15 meetings between the two dating back to the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the Capitals have come out victorious in 13 of them.
The last time these two met in the playoffs was 2012, where the Capitals bested the B’s in Game 7 in a crushing overtime loss for the Bruins (Joel Ward also joins Simon Gagne in my nightmares).
The Capitals continue to be contenders year in and year out with their core of Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and Evgeny Kuznetsov. They’re a fast team with arguably the best shooter in the game. Yet, this team feels different this year. Less … intimidating.
Perhaps it was last year’s shocking loss in the first round to the Carolina Hurricanes that now makes the Capitals seem vulnerable to other teams not named the Penguins. Perhaps it’s the fact that they rely almost solely offensively on players all aged 32 years old and above.
In my opinion, it’s the question mark in net, where Braden Holtby is not what he once was and is having his worst year statistically since entering the league. It genuinely is a tossup between Holtby and rookie Ilya Samsonov for who will get the nod in the first round-robin game. It wouldn’t shock me to see Samsononv considering the poor season Holtby had.
This group just doesn’t scare me the way it did a couple years ago. Goaltending is a major concern. The Bruins walloped the Caps 7-3 in their last meeting in December. Washington is, I believe, the weakest team out of the four round-robin teams in the Eastern Conference.
The fun begins for the Bruins on August 2nd. Hockey is *almost* back.