One more game remains for the top four seeds in the Eastern Conference in the NHL’s round robin tournament.
When the NHL released their Return to Play plan in late May, there were many unknowns about seeding and formats. The solution? A round robin tournament for the top four teams in their separate conferences, while the remaining 16 teams played in eight best-of-5 series.
In terms of the round robin for the Eastern Conference, every team has now played two out the three games, and the standings are not what someone would have thought they would be back in March.
- Tampa Bay Lightning (2-0-0)
- Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-0)
- Washington Capitals (0-1-1)
- Boston Bruins (0-2-0)
So, who has been the key players, play-makers, surprising stepper uppers, and what not? Well, let’s take a look.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning finished the shortened regular season seven points behind the Bruins for second place in the Eastern Conference. And, before the pandemic caused the sports world to come to a halt, they were on a two-game losing streak.
However, the four month break must have done something good, as they have yet to lose a game in the round robin series. In their first playoff-type game back, the Lightning played the Washington Capitals where they survived a rally from the Capitals and won in a shootout.
Forward Nikita Kucherov was back to scoring ways, tallying the Lightning’s first playoff goal for the month of August. Mitchell Stephens would also go on to score his first postseason goal in his professional career. Brayden Point and Kucherov would both score in the shootout, and the Lightning would earn their first postseason victory.
During the regular season, the Lightning went 4-1-0 against the Boston Bruins. So, you could say they were feeling confident going into their second round robin game Wednesday night against the Bruins. Plus, the Bruins have been struggling to find their game, but I will discuss that later.
Anyways, Point found a loose puck off of a Kucherov shot that Tuukka Rask was unable to grab, and put the Lightning ahead 7:33 into the opening period. The Lightning extended their lead about three minutes later when Alex Killhorn deflected Victor Headman’s shot past Rask.
Boston would eventually tie the game in the second and early in the third period. However, Tyler Johnson picked up a rebound with 1:30 remaining in the game, and put the Lightning ahead ultimately giving the Bruins their second loss in the round robin.
Up next for Tampa, they take on the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday for their final game of round robin play.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind the Washington Capitals. The Flyers had just lost to the Boston Bruins before the NHL paused play, but got their revenge in their first round robin game against the Bruins.
Nate Thompson, Philippe Meyers, and Scott Laughton all scored, while Michael Raffl tallied a goal and an assist. And, during their second round robin game against the capitals, Laughton recorded two goals and an assist to stay hot.
Laughton’s line-mates also had themselves a game, with Kevin Hayes recording three assists and Travis Konecny tallying two assists. Travis Sanheim scored as well to lift the Flyers over the Capitals 3-1.
The Flyers will take on the other undefeated team in the Eastern Conference round robin, the Tampa Bay Lightning, on Saturday as they both compete for the No. 1 seed
3. Washington Capitals
The Capitals left off third in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Flyers and two points behind the Lightning. They were also on a one-game losing streak, losing in over time to the Buffalo Sabres.
In their first round robin game against the Lightning, the Capitals came back from a two-goal deficit to force an overtime and eventually a shootout.
Both their goals were scored in the final three minutes of the second period; Richard Panik poked a puck over the goal line to cut the Lightning’s lead in half at 17:24, while Evgeny Kuznetsov tied it on the power play at 19:32. However, the Capitals would ultimately fall to the Lightning in the shootout.
In their second round robin game, the Capitals could not get more one puck past the goal line. Travis Boyd was the lone goal-scorer for the Capitals, while Braden Holtby made 18 saves in the 3-1 defeat.
Washington will play the Bruins on Sunday for a chance for the No. 3 seed.
4. Boston Bruins
For a team that finished the regular the season with 100 points atop the NHL, the Bruins have not been playing their best, and are struggling to find their game.
And, due to their irresponsible decision-making, the Bruins find themselves without a win or even an overtime loss so far in the round robin tournament.
Granted, the Bruins did not have their starting goaltender for their first game against the Flyers, but they were only able to put one goal past Hart. Chris Wagner was the lone goal scorer for the black-and-gold, as the Bruins began their playoff hunt rather shaky.
However, things were beginning to look up for the Bruins against the Lightning in their second round robin game. Despite giving up two goals in the opening period, Boston was able to climb back and tie the game thanks to Wagner and Charlie McAvoy. Rask was also back between the net, and looked rather comfortable.
The Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak looked a bit better, as the trio has been struggling to connect since returning to play.
But, it was a late third period goal by the Lightning was evidently the decider, handing the Bruins their second loss.
The Bruins will take on the Capitals for a chance at grabbing the No. 3 seed on Sunday.