With each passing game in the Eastern Conference as the NHL regular season winds down, it looks more and more like the Tampa Bay Lightning might end up facing the Boston Bruins in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
A 3-2 Detroit Red Wings victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night has them temporarily in position to face the Bolts, but the Bruins were idle on Tuesday and hold the tiebreaker over the Red Wings. They're two points back with a game in hand -- one more victory would put them right back into position to face Tampa Bay.
Yet, everywhere you look, there are Bolts fans wringing their hands over the idea that the Lightning might draw the Bruins.
It's a sentiment that's even found it's way to the Montreal faithful:
With the Red Wings in freefall, winning division is what Habs need. Get Detroit in the first round, let Tampa worry about the Bruins.— Conor McKenna (@mckennaconor) April 5, 2015
But really, this Boston Bruins team isn't what many think it is, and there are a few reasons why a potential match-up with them in the first round is nothing to be worried about or to try to avoid.
1. Playing the Bruins is kinda like playing your dad 1-on-1
Stick with me here a second... When you were a kid, you might have played against one of your parents in some sort of one-on-one scenario. Maybe it was a sport, or chess, or whatever. For the sake of this analogy, let's say it's your dad, and let's say it's basketball. For a long time, Dad probably beat you 1-on-1. A lot. Like the Bruins have beat the Lightning. A lot.
Inevitably, though, your dad gets older and slower. You get better. You start giving Dad a little bit of trouble. He responds by using his size advantage, playing more physical to muscle you out. But he's not better than you any more -- just a little bigger. If you're smart, you use your skill and speed to your advantage and start embarrassing your older and slower dad. You beat him once, and realize you're better than he is. You beat him again. And again...
See what I'm getting at here?
2. Are you seriously scared of this blue line?
Bruins pairings: Chara-Trotman Bartkowski-McQuaid Krug-Morrow— Nicholas W. Goss (@NickGossNESN) April 7, 2015
Zdeno Chara just returned from being "day-to-day" after blocking a shot off his ankle, and Dougie Hamilton has only recently started skating again. It's likely that both will be available come playoff time, but how healthy are they really? For a team that, over the past few years, has built a reputation of being physical and tough to score on, this defense group just isn't that scary. Match them up against the Lightning's forward group -- which has led the team to a league-high 255 goals -- and who do you think wins out?
Chara has been battling various ailments all season long, and the subtraction of Johnny Boychuk has hurt the Bruins more than some in Boston would probably like to admit. This big bad Bruins team is, in some ways, more bad than big these days.
3. Who is going to score goals?
Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask are still a damn fine group of players to put on the ice if you don't want to give up a goal. But who is gonna score for the Bruins?
At 5v5, the Bruins are ranked 21st in goal-scoring per game, behind offensive juggernauts like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers.
Bergeron leads the team in scoring with 22 goals and 54 points, which means the Boston Bruins have exactly zero 60 point scorers so far this year. They're likely to end the season with zero. Bergeron would be tied with Ryan Callahan for 5th in scoring on the Lightning. The Bruins team as a whole boasts just three 20+ goal scorers -- Bergeron, plus Brad Marchand (22) and Loui Eriksson (21). Milan Lucic, "best power forward in the league," has just 18.
4. Tuukka Rask has played an awful lot of games
As of this writing, 7 more games than Ben Bishop and more than 500 more minutes. His .924 save percentage on the year is still outstanding, but can he keep it up with the Bruins fighting just to make the playoffs? Will he keep it up over a 7-game series against a team shooting north of 9% at 5v5 over an 80-game sample?
5. Truly good teams beat everybody
Good teams don't dodge certain opponents. Great teams don't have bad match-ups. The Tampa Bay Lightning are well on their way to becoming a perennial Stanley Cup contender, and, for better or worse, the presumption in the Eastern Conference is going to continue to be that Boston is the team to beat.
It's time to change that.
So go out there. Beat the Bruins. Expose their weaknesses. Become the team to beat. Get this stupid Bostonian monkey off everyone's back and prove that what Steve Yzerman has been building for five years works.