The Bruins continue their quest for their seventh Stanley Cup Saturday afternoon when they begin their Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Lightning in Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena.
Here’s six keys to the Bruins beating the Lightning and advancing to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2013:
1.) Tuukka Rask Needs To Be More Consistent
Even if Tuukka Rask has a 0.00 GAA and 1.000 save percentage in this series, he will still have his critics crying for the Bruins to trade him or for career back-up Anton Khudobin to start in the Eastern Conference Final. Look! By no means am I defending Rask’s performance in the first round. At 4-3, with a 2.94 GAA and .899 save percentage, he has been average at best. He has proven however -with a 3-1-0, 2.00 GAA, .926 save percentage and one shutout against the Bolts – that he can shut down the league’s best offense and third best power play. Average won’t cut it against Tampa Bay and while he doesn’t need to stand on his head and be Tim Thomas in 2011, he does need to be much more consistent. No more bad goals or goals right after the Bruins score and if by chance he does let in a softie, battle through it like he did in game 7 against the Leafs.
2.) Forward Depth Needs To Show Up
One of the main reasons the Maple Leafs were able to erase a 3-1 series deficit and take the Bruins to seven games was that they were able to shut down the Bruins top line of Bard Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak in Game 3, 5 and 6. Based on the regular season success the Bruins had, that shouldn’t have been an issue because their biggest strength was their depth up front. The likes of David Krejci, Rick Nash, Danton Heinen and Riley Nash however became invisible as well in those games and didn’t provide the depth the Bruins needed. That is not to say they were horrible against Toronto, but they will need to be great against Tampa Bay.
3.) If Possible, Manage Zdeno Chara’s Minute Better
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint and at times it seemed as if Chara was trying to be Usain Bolt, rather than Dennis Kimetto. Chara was clearly fatigued in Games 5, 6 and 7, and while he dug deep and helped the team as best he could on the ice and with a pep talk in the second intermission, he was not himself when the Bruins needed him most. Chara led the team with average of 23:27 minutes on ice per game against the Leafs for a total of 164:09 minutes in the series. While that doesn’t seem too bad, one has to imagine, just like so many players at this time of year, he’s dinged up as well. If Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Torey Krug can eat up some extra minutes and allow Chara a little more rest, it will greatly benefit them against the NHL’s most lethal offense.
4.) Don’t Allow Momentum Killing Goals
In the first round and through most of the season, it seemed like every time the Bruins scored a big goal, they allowed the opponent to answer with one of their own. This killed them a few times in the series with the Leafs, most noticeable when they cut Toronto’s lead to 2-1 in Game 5 and then the Leafs made it 3-1 51 seconds later. With another team that can strike quick in the Lightning, Bruce Cassidy needs to make sure he has the right matchup’s out promptly, and the players need to stay even-keeled.
5.) Special Teams Need To Be Special Again
Scoring at a 31.8 percent clip, the Bruins have the second best power play in the playoffs thus far and the Lightning have the fourth best at 26.3 percent. Meanwhile the B’s penalty kill killed off 11 of the 15 power plays they faced against the Leafs and the Lightning killed off 84.2 percent of the power plays they faced. Boston will need their PP and PK to be great again, and even better would be to stay disciplined and not put those offensive weapons like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
6.) Win One Of The First Two And All Home Games
With TD Garden being a house of horrors for the Lightning dating back to 2011 when the Bruins beat them in a seven-game Eastern Conference Final, the Bruins need to take advantage of that to hold serve at home in this series. More importantly though, they need to take one of the first two games in Tampa Bay and steal home advantage as well as set the tone for the series that they can beat the Lightning anywhere.
Prediction- Bruins in 6