This is an opportunity that the Boston Bruins just have to take advantage of.
With the No. 1 seed Tampa Bay Lightning being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the No. 8 seed Columbus Blue Jackets were waiting patiently to see who their opponent would be in the second round. And now we know.
After the Bruins’ 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Tuesday night’s Game 7 at the TD Garden, it’ll be Boston hosting Columbus in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
For months, we had been looking ahead at a potential second-round series between the Bruins and Lightning. The NHL’s newer playoff format’s set brackets — with no re-seeding — allows us to do that.
Tampa Bay won the Atlantic Division with the best record in the NHL. The Bruins finished second in the Atlantic with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The winner of Boston vs Toronto would for sure have to go through the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lighting in the second round if it wanted to advance to the Eastern Conference Final.
Well, that’s what we thought before the Wild-Card Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world and eliminated the Lightning in four games in the first round. It’s not too often you get a break like that, if you’re Boston or Toronto, or, as we now know, if you’re Boston, who eliminated Toronto in the first round for the second consecutive year.
Some might say, “Be careful what you wish for,” while pointing out Columbus’ dominance over the best team in the NHL. And there’s certainly an argument to be made that the Blue Jackets — given what they just did to the Lightning — are just as dangerous a second-round opponent.
But let’s not overthink this.
What if I told you in February that the Bruins would only have to go through Toronto and Columbus in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Final? You probably would’ve told placed a bet on the Bruins to be one of the NHL’s final four teams standing, right then and there.
Should that mindset change just because Columbus defeated Tampa Bay? I don’t think so.
At the end of the day, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most unpredictable playoffs in any sport. You’ve seen that to this point with the Lightning being knocked out in the first round, and with the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed Calgary Flames being eliminated by the No. 8 seed Colorado Avalanche in the first round.
So maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if the Blue Jackets end up knocking off the Bruins, who now own home-ice advantage throughout the rest of the playoffs. But if that does happen, it’ll have more to do with goaltending than anything else. The matchup of Sergei Bobrovsky and Tuukka Rask will be the most important.
For Rask, it’s an opportunity to take advantage of not having to face a Tampa Bay team that scored the most goals in the NHL this year with 325, which is 67 more goals than Columbus scored. And for the entire Bruins team, it’s an opportunity to face the No. 8 seed, rather than the No. 1 seed, which will see a big difference in talent, top to bottom, regardless of what happened in the first round.
Say what you want about the Blue Jackets’ momentum. With Tampa Bay no longer in the picture, the Eastern Conference is wide open.
And now, it’s time for the Bruins to take advantage.