Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins: Round 2, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Tampa Lightning vs Boston Bruins NHL Playoffs Round 2
Tampa Bay Lightning vs Boston Bruins, Eastern Conference Semifinals

If only Games 3 and 4 of this series lived up to the billing that Game 5 provided. For almost 100 minutes Monday, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning played a hockey game befitting the two best teams in the NHL during the regular season. The two teams traded chances and the goaltending was outstanding as the second overtime period wound down in Game 5. Victor Hedman’s shot through a Pat Maroon screen evaded Jaroslav Halak for the series-clincher, spoiling Boston’s best effort since it won the first game of the series. The Bruins outshot the Lightning 47-35, but could not convert on their numerous chances in regulation and overtime to prolong their season.

Tampa Bay Lightning win 4-1

When Boston actually played like it cared, this series was fun to watch between two of the best teams in the NHL. The issue for the Bruins was they were indefensibly passive in Games 3 and 4 to put themselves in a massive hole. Tampa Bay was the better team for almost the entire series, but the gap was fairly thin in the first two games as they split them. The Lightning dominated a hapless Bruins squad in the third and fourth games, but Boston again put Tampa Bay on its heels in Game 5. Andrei Vasilevskiy was magnificent for the Lightning in the final game and Tampa Bay’s best players were difference makers the entire series whereas Boston’s went quiet at times.

Game 1

August 23rd, 8 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

In some of the final games before the NHL season went on pause, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins tangled in two action-packed games that felt like NHL playoffs games. These two teams have built up a healthy rivalry over the past few seasons as two of the better teams in the league, and that should lead to a fun series between the two sides in the bubble. The Lightning are the higher seed due to their performance in the round robin, but the Bruins are a far different team than the one that lost 3-2 to Tampa Bay in that round-robin matchup.

Tampa Bay is hoping it will receive good news and Steven Stamkos will return at some point in this series, but without him the Lightning have looked just fine. Brayden Point leads the team with five goals and 10 points, scoring both of the overtime goals in the series with Columbus. Nikita Kucherov has only scored two goals, but still has seven assists as well. The scoring depth drops significantly after those two, but Tampa Bay has done an excellent job protecting Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The Lightning have allowed only 28.4 shots on goal per game if you exclude the five-overtime thriller with Columbus, but Vasilevskiy has just a .910 save percentage in those other four games. That’ll need to improve for Tampa to hold off Boston.

Boston’s resilience was on full display in its first-round series with Carolina as it survived losing its top scorer for three games, its top goalie leaving the bubble to deal with a family emergency and a 2-0 third-period deficit in Game 4. The Bruins played three remarkable team games after Tuukka Rask’s decision to leave the bubble because they are down to just Jaroslav Halak to lead the charge back to the Stanley Cup Final in goal. David Krejci has returned to his playoff form and been Boston’s best player now that his line has been stabilized a bit, and he leads the Bruins with nine points.

Not even the NHL betting sites in New Jersey wanted to split this series to favorite or underdog. Both teams have identical -109 odds to advance to the conference finals and the odds are pointing to this series going all seven games. The safest bet in this wild series is likely picking this series to go the full distance for +210 odds, otherwise it’s a genuine toss up between these two clubs. Boston might be slightly better defensively, but Tampa Bay is slightly better offensively. I’ll be biased and pick the Bruins to advance, but I am in no way confident in that prediction.

The energy for this game is going to be high from the outset as both of these teams know how important the first game is to setting the tone for the series. They played a hotly-contested game in the round robin, though this will feel much different in almost every aspect. The difference in this series will be the ability to finish chances, and that is a clear edge for Tampa Bay, which was far better than Boston in that department. If the Bruins never got their hands in the right spot and missed so many chances high and/or wide against Carolina, so bet Tampa Bay at -114 odds to win Game 1.

BET ON TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING TO WIN

Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

August 26th, 8:00 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

Everyone knew the Tampa Bay Lightning were going to come out the more desperate hockey team, and they kept that desperation for more than 60 minutes against the Boston Bruins in Game 2. The Lightning never led for long in the game, falling behind twice by one goal, but Ondrej Palat capitalized on a few failed clearances from the Bruins to tie the series in overtime. Tampa Bay outshot Boston 40-25 and had 27 other attempts blocked by the Bruins defense as the Lightning simply overwhelmed the Bruins and kept them pinned into their own zone for long stretches.

Tampa Bay’s relentless pressure finally paid off with Palat’s winning goal, but Game 2 was a continuation of what the Lightning did for the final 40 minutes of Game 1. They simply dominated the possession and outworked the Bruins in almost every aspect, showing off far more desperation than the Bruins ever cared to show in the series. An ill-timed broken stick led to Boston’s first goal then a defensive lapse allowed the Bruins to score a second and the Bruins looked hungry to tie the game late in regulation. Otherwise, Tampa Bay dictated everything about the game and came out deserved winners.

Boston continues to struggle against teams with a lot of pressure on the forecheck, and it cost it in overtime against the Lightning. The Bruins failed to clear the zone three times before Tampa Bay was able to bang home the winning goal, a continuation of what the Lightning have done all series. Boston’s best offensive chances have come when it either wins a faceoff and is able to break out cleanly off a set play or when the Lightning peel off to change lines. When Tampa Bay decides to forecheck, Boston has struggled mightily and at times wilted into giving the Lightning great chances on goal.

All seven of Tampa Bay’s win in this postseason so far have come by one goal, but I’d be shocked if that stays the case after Wednesday night. The Bruins are an older team and the amount of defending they had to do in the game will leave them tired for Game 3. The Lightning have basically dominated five of the six periods in this series and dominated the overtime in Game 2 as well, so they should roll in Game 3. Tampa Bay will win by multiple goals and make the Bruins look sluggish and indecisive again.

BET ON TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING TO WIN

 

Game 4 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 2-1)

August 28th, 7:30 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

It was extremely clear which team was the younger, more rested group Wednesday night for Game 3 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. The Lightning skated circles around the Bruins and took full advantage of Boston’s pathetic effort to grab a lead in the series. Whether it was the fatigue of playing on consecutive nights, being distracted by current events or just having an off night, the Bruins never found their game and continuously chased Tampa Bay the entire night. That isn’t a formula that can win Boston many games against such a formidable opponent.

Tampa Bay’s power play got going again in a big way in Game 3, which is troublesome for Boston moving forward in this series. The Lightning struck three times on the man advantage, punishing the Bruins for their lack of discipline even if some of the calls were weak. Tampa Bay almost let Boston back in the game with a power-play goal in the second period, but it responded with a power play goal of its own to restore order. The Lightning were definitely faster and more physical than Boston, which is problematic for the Bruins, but they still struggle the few times Boston has played with a sense of urgency in this series.

There really isn’t much to say from Boston’s perspective about that game. The effort level in the second period was abysmal, which turned a reasonable deficit into an insurmountable mountain. Boston pulled starter Jaroslav Halak for some much-needed rest and then let down Dan Vladar in his NHL debut by letting Tampa Bay get easy breakaways on him. There were some bad luck plays that allowed Tampa Bay to take the lead, but Boston didn’t respond properly and let the game slip away quickly.

If this were any other team, I would say that the Game 3 beatdown just demoralized them too much to overcome in a series. But the Bruins are a veteran group that won’t panic and will learn from their many mistakes in the loss. Part of the reason the loss was so bad was the back-to-back games, but when Boston put pressure on Tampa Bay, it actually has had success in this series. The Bruins don’t lose three straight playoff games very often, and there will be a strong pushback from the veterans. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey still have Tampa Bay as a slight favorite, but I’ll take Boston in regulation at +155 odds to even the series again.

BET ON BOSTON BRUINS TO WIN

Game 5 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-1)

August 31st, 7 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

For the third straight NHL playoffs game, the Tampa Bay Lightning dominated play against the Boston Bruins and again they have come out victorious. Tampa Bay rode out a push from Boston in the first 10 minutes, but that was about as much resistance as the Bruins were willing to give while trailing in the series. The Lightning were able to get around the goal with ease and banged home three goals before masterfully defending for most of the final 20 minutes to take a commanding lead in the series.

Tampa Bay has to feel like it’s fully demoralized the Bruins after Game 4 in which Boston showed none of the bite it had in the first two games of the series. The Lightning continued to dominate the first two periods to take a lead then were more than willing to sit back and soak in some pressure. A power-play goal aside, the Lightning had no issues taking away Boston’s scoring threats and frustrating the Bruins even more. Andrei Vasilevskiy didn’t need to be at the top of his game, though he did make a few nice saves, as Tampa Bay clogged the passing lanes and blocked 16 Boston shots to close out a routine victory.

What was probably most disappointing for Boston was its lack of response in Game 4 after being embarrassed in Game 3. The Bruins played better, but they never really threatened Tampa Bay at all until it was far too late in the game. Boston played undisciplined hockey and showed the wrong type of fight and looked like a team ready for its season to end. It lacked dedication on defense to protect the goal and let the Lightning walk into the danger areas unimpeded and unpunished, which isn’t like most Bruins teams. The Bruins were nothing more than going through the motions at times, and missed the net on so many of its best chances.

Anybody expecting the Bruins to have any sort of pushback in Game 5 is kidding themselves. Boston is a defeated team ready to leave the bubble, and I expect that to play out Monday night. Tampa Bay might score three or four goals in the first period and won’t stop until the final horn sounds. This game might be far worse than Game 3 was for Boston, which will be facing plenty of difficult decisions over the summer with its core group. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey are showing the Bruins far too much respect with their odds, so not only am I taking Tampa Bay in regulation at +140 odds, I’m adding in the over six total goals for +150 and the Lightning giving a goal for +188 odds.

BET ON TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING TO WIN

 

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

All Reviews by Josh Walfish

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