The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have settled in comfortably as the top two teams in the Atlantic Division over the last few seasons. While the positions have flipped, these two have become the class of the Atlantic in some order since the 2017-18 season. This season, both teams were comfortably heading to the postseason with home ice in the opening round of the playoffs.
Their rivalry intensified this season as the Lightning tried to send a message. Remember, the Lightning were bullied out of the playoffs by Columbus last spring, while the Bruins are known as one of the tougher and better teams in the NHL.
The Bruins held a commanding eight point lead over Tampa Bay with 12 games left when ‘the pause’ began in March. That no longer matters. The Lightning, thanks to the proposed round-robin portion of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, could emerge as the top seed in the East yet again.
The Lightning were one of the most impressive teams in NHL history a season ago. It didn’t help them come April, as they were swept away by the Blue Jackets in the opening round. That came on the heels of the Lightning blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Washington Capitals in the 2018 Eastern Conference Final.
With two difficult playoff failures behind them, the Lightning underwent a number of changes this past off-season. They traded JT Miller to the Vancouver Canucks at the 2019 NHL Draft, then flipped the contract of Ryan Callahan to the Ottawa Senators.
In free agency, the Lightning added grit and character in the form of Luke Schenn. They also added Curtis McElhinney to serve as the backup goaltender. A month after free agency opened, they signed Kevin Shattenkirk to a one-year deal. Three weeks later, it was Patrick Maroon on another one-year contract.
At the trade deadline, just weeks before ‘the pause’, the Lightning got to work again. This time, they acquired the underrated Blake Coleman from New Jersey for Nolan Foote and a conditional first-round pick. Eight days later, they traded a 2020 first-round pick to San Jose for forward Barclay Goodrow.
All of those changes led to another successful season on the ice in Tampa Bay. The Lightning finished second in the Atlantic Division with 92 points in 70 games, a 43-21-6 record. In terms of points percentage, they finished second in the East behind only the Bruins.
Scoring wise, the Lightning were led once again by Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov, who won the Art Ross Trophy in 2018-19, finished the season with 85 points (33-52-85) in 68 games. Steven Stamkos (66 points, 29-37-66) finished second on the team after finally enjoying a largely healthy season until the end. Brayden Point (64 points, 25-39-64), Victor Hedman (55 points, 11-44-55) and Alex Killorn (49 points, 26-23-49) round out the top-five scorers for the Lightning.
Stamkos was injured in late February and was slated to miss six-to-eight weeks with a core muscle injury. He’ll be ready to go when the NHL returns to action.
The Bruins and Lightning met four times during the course of the regular season, twice in Boston and twice in Tampa Bay. The Lightning took the overall season series 3-1-0, while the Bruins finished 1-2-1.
The sides first met on October 17th at TD Garden in Boston. Both sides traded a goal each in all three periods, with David Pastrnak scoring his second of the night at 16:55 of the third to force overtime, which solved nothing. In the shootout, Stamkos scored the only goal in round four and the Lightning came away with a 4-3 victory.
It was another close contest on December 12th. Again, the Lightning would prevail. This time, however, it would come in regulation. Point would break a 1-1 tie at 4:07 of the third period on the powerplay, while Stamkos scored his 13th of the season at 15:13 to give the Lightning the insurance needed to claim an eventual 3-2 victory.
The Bruins struck back on March 3rd, winning 2-1 thanks to goals from Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk. That game was just an appetizer. The marquee matchup came four days later at TD Garden.
The Lightning took a 5-3 decision at the Garden, but no one truly remembers that game for the final score. The Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead 6:50 into the second period, but the Bruins stormed back. Charlie McAvoy and Sean Kuraly each scored to make it 3-2 after two. That’s when hockey night turned into fight night.
The stage was set for what was likely to be a feisty playoff series had both teams won their opening round matchup. Now, the rivalry will have to continue in the round-robin stage.
The Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have only met twice in the postseason before. The first meeting came in 2011, when the sides met in the Eastern Conference Final. Nathan Horton scored the lone goal in Game 7, as the Boston Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1990.
The sides met seven years later in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins took Game 1 6-2 in Tampa Bay, but the Lightning would win the next four games and advance to the Conference Final. There, they blew a 3-1 lead and lost in Game 7 to the eventual Champions, the Washington Capitals.
Overall, the Bruins are 5-7 against the Lightning in playoff games and 1-1 in series.