( Photo Credit: Andre Ringuette / Getty Images )

By: Pierce Brody | Follow me on Twitter @PierceBrody3

The 2019 NHL playoffs were supposed to be the Tampa Bay Lightning’s year. In recent memory, they had put together one of the most dominant regular seasons, finishing with the then-record 62 wins and just 16 losses. They had the league’s best offense, the best defense, and the best power play. They had the league’s leading scorer, Nikita Kucherov, and the likely Vezina Trophy winner in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy. They were the odds-on favorites to win the Stanley Cup. But then the playoffs started, and everything fell apart.

In the first round, the Lightning faced off against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that had barely squeaked into the playoffs and had never won a playoff series in their history. Needless to say, they won the most unlikely of series in dominant fashion.

Our Boston Bruins have drawn uncomfortable comparisons all season long to that Tampa Bay team, in addition to their many more flattering comparisons. The Presidents Trophy curse is still alive and well, but despite the shocking and disappointing loss to the Florida Panthers, these record-breaking Bruins are not that 2019 team, for better and for worse.

Firstly, the on-ice product was not as similar, despite identical first-round exits. Although they ended up in the same place, the Lightning’s playoff exit was highlighted by multiple lopsided losses and an inability to solve Sergei Bobrovsky. The Bruins, meanwhile, could have closed their series out in five games before collapsing defensively in three very close games.

The opponents were also quite different. The Blue Jackets were barely competing for a spot and had geared up for that rare playoff appearance with nothing to lose. Many players, like Bobrovsky, were upcoming free agents, and this was likely the last competitive season before another trip to the lottery.

The Panthers, meanwhile, were a reigning Presidents Trophy winner who had their own disappointing exit last season. While they only squeaked into the playoffs, their past offseason was built around being a more consistent threat in the postseason, which seems to have worked against Toronto as well.

The dissimilarities don’t stop there. Unfortunately for the Bruins past and present, the Lightning were just beginning to enter their prime. With Steven Stamkos at 28, Brayden Point at 22, Kucherov at 25, and Vasilevskiy at 24, they were primed to be even better the following year. The Bruins do not have the same luxury of age.

David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron are real threats to retire despite being the top two centers on an offensive juggernaut. Former household names Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall are showing they’re on the wrong side of 30. However, there is some young talent that is somewhat similar, as David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Pavel Zacha, and Jake DeBrusk are now entering their primes. Furthermore, Trent Frederic and Jeremy Swayman are still on rookie deals.

Unlike Tampa, the Bruins will likely lose a step as they prepare to find their next captain, but a fall from contention shouldn’t be expected. Yet age and potential aren’t the only things that can derail a multi-year titan.

The salary cap situation is, unfortunately, similar between these two teams. Tampa’s exodus of players due to salary cap constraints in the last half-decade is truly remarkable. From Ryan McDonough to J.T. Miller, the train out of Tampa hasn’t slowed. The Bruins have had their own fair share of cap casualties over the years, and this offseason will be no different.

There’s no way to know who will return this offseason and how much cap space will be left until Don Sweeney starts calling his shots again. Everything will be on the table, from Trent Frederic’s restricted free agency to Taylor Hall’s bloated contract.

While the Bruins won’t have as many rising stars entering contract years as the Lightning did, next year’s cap space will be a painful reset. Truly, these teams were never going to be identical despite the eerie likeness on and off the ice. As the resemblance appears to be little more than a cruel pattern, we can only guess how these next few seasons will unfold for the once-dominant Boston Bruins.