The first round of the NHL playoffs has been nothing short of exciting. There were plenty of hot storylines going in and there’s just as many going into the second round. The Tampa Bay Lighting went into the postseason after a historic regular season in which they tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a regular season with 62. After posting that insane 62-16-4 record over 82 games, they met the Columbus Blue Jackets who snuck into the second wild card spot, only two points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. The Washington Capitals entered the playoffs looking to defend their title as Stanley Cup Champions and to show their rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that they can repeat. The Caps would face the Carolina Hurricanes, who made the playoffs for the first time since 2009 to break the longest playoff drought in the NHL. The New York Islanders have returned to the playoffs and Long Island after having played at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the past three seasons, and they will face the Penguins. Then there are the St. Louis Blues, who entered 2019 dead last in the NHL. Yet, they surged with the help of rookie goalie Jordan Binnington to finish third in the Central Division and clinch a playoff birth.
By far the biggest shock of the first round was the record-breaking Lightning team getting swept by the Blue Jackets. Columbus, who had never won a postseason series in the history of their franchise, dominated the heavy favorites easily. With the help of their trade deadline acquisitions Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingle stepping up and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky standing on his head in net, the Blue Jackets won all but one game in the series by more than one goal. Tampa Bay is a fast paced and offensively stacked team that relies on scoring highlight reel goals from solid passing, but Columbus was able to disrupt the passing lanes effectively enough to shut down Tampa Bay’s offense. Teams coached by John Tortorella have been known for solid defensive structures that are hard to beat.
On the local front, the Boston Bruins once again have come out victorious agaisnt the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games. They now move on to the Conference Semifinals for the second year in a row. This time they will face a tough Columbus team. Boston was pushed to the brink, going down 3-2 in their first-round matchup but came up with a big road win and then closed out a less experienced and younger Toronto team. This season, after signing John Tavares as a free agent in the offseason, Toronto had a much more lethal first line weapon at their disposal. He had a goal and an assist in game 1 to help Toronto take an early series lead, but the B’s were able to shut him down, limiting him to only three points over the remaining games in the series. Much like 2018, the Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak came up huge, and Boston continues to ride off their dominance as a trio. They will look for those three to keep up the offensive pace against a tight defensive group in Columbus.
Last year the Bruins lost in the semifinals to Tampa in five games. They lost due to their significant lack of scoring depth. After scoring six goals in Game 1, the Bruins were only able to muster up goals from three players outside of their top line. Only two of them were forwards, one of them being Rick Nash who retired before the start of the 2018-19 season. The top line was still scoring, but not enough to carry the team. If the Bruins want to advance to the conference finals, they will need players like Jake Debrusk, Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen to step up to match Columbus’ forward core, as they got a lot deeper after the trade deadline. The Blue Jackets have a lethal top two lines with a very solid third line, great top defensive pairing, and a hot goaltender in Brobrovsky. The Blue Jackets are a hot team having won seven out of their last ten regular season games and four straight against Tampa. The Bruins won the regular season series 2-1 outscoring them 12-10.