Saturday featured three Stanley Cup Playoff games, including the Tampa Bay Lightning winning their series against the New Jersey Devils. An empty net goal scored by Ryan Callahan sealed the game for a 3-1 win over the Devils, sending them back to New Jersey to start their offseason. The Lightning looked like a dangerous team in this series, which should give them confidence moving on into their next round. Let’s preview the matchup they may have against either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs.
With a stacked field already featuring an expansion team who swept a former Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings team, and an almost inevitable Capitals and Penguins second round matchup, the Lightning could easily face the Boston Bruins. In the regular season, the Bruins won three out of four games against the Lightning, where the Bolts won the final game at the end of the season in Tampa. If the Bruins beat the Maple Leafs, the Lightning will benefit with home ice. The Lightning will also benefit from these extra days of rest as the Bruins still play Game Six on Monday night in Toronto. The Lightning will stay in Tampa waiting for their opponent. Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask was chased out of the net in Game Five against the Maple Leafs, which show a good sign against one of the most powerful scoring teams in the NHL, and one of the best power plays in the field remaining in the NHL. The Bolts have some work to do, as the Bruins seemed to have the Lightning’s number all year, but with extra days rest, and the team playing some of their best hockey of the season, all should be right for an extra competitive second round matchup.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs have found themselves in a hole against the Bruins, but forced a Game Six on Saturday night after beating the Bruins 4-3. Although the Leafs were up 4-1 and almost blew a three goal lead, Toronto fans should be happy their team is heading back to the Air Canada Centre for a home game and a potential Game Seven in their future. For the Lightning’s sake, the Maple Leafs would be the easier opponent in my opinion. The Bolts won three of their four in the regular season against the Leafs, including a 4-3 victory on March 20, the last time these teams met. Leafs goalie Frederuk Andersen has struggled against the Bruins in their first round series, allowing 16 of the 20 Bruins goals in five games. This is also a dangerous flaw against one of the best teams in the NHL when it comes to scoring goals. The Lightning would benefit from a run down Bruins or Maple Leafs team if this series goes to seven games. For the Bolts sake, I think the Leafs would be a better matchup for them to head to their third Eastern Conference Finals in the past five years.
It’s been a waiting game since Saturday afternoon. It was to nobody’s surprise that the Lightning would take care of business in the first round against the Devils, but when they played some of their best hockey of the season at the right time, things couldn’t look brighter for the Lightning. If it comes down to seven games for the Bruins and the Maple Leafs, the Lightning have that extra time to prepare, and since they’ve been back in Tampa since defeating the Devils in five games, their opponent will have to make the trip South to face their next opponent. The Bruins and Maple Leafs alongside the Capitals and the Blue Jackets are the last four teams left in the first round. Obviously only two can advance, but for everyone’s sake, playoff hockey is the best kind of hockey. Stay tuned for a better preview and prediction after the Boston-Toronto series has concluded.