Look, the Tampa Bay Lightning are a far superior team to the Chicago Blackhawks. There is little debate about that. And looking at the box score, it would appear that the Hawks put up a valiant fight despite being hopelessly outgunned even if Kucherov and Stamkos didn’t play. But that would be the incorrect conclusion to draw, and once again a pants shitting was on display from top to bottom given how the game actually played out and the circumstances in the standings surrounding it. In the end, however, water finds its own level and this was yet another shining example of just how far away from being actually competitive the Hawks are, no matter how FUN they were for 10 minutes two months ago.
Records: Hawks 14-11-5 (33) Lightning 20-6-2 (42)
Puck Drops: Thursday 6:00 / Saturday 3:00
TV/Radio: NBCSN and WGN 720
Tom Brady’s Minions: Raw Charge
Hoo boy, here we go again.
The last time these teams met up over a week ago, things went fairly positively for the Hawks with them going 1-1-1 in the 3 game series. The last game on the 7th, however, saw the Hawks cough up a 3 goal lead en route to losing 6-3. Since the middle of February, coughing up leads has become a shitty new trend for them as they once again jumped out to a 3-1 lead against the Panthers last game and proceeded to implode defensively again en route to yet another 6-3 loss. As Summer pointed out in her recap, the Hawks since the beginning of February have been unable to hold multi-goal leads in 7 of 9 games where they’ve had them. That, as the kids like to say, is “not good.”
The clown show that March has been is unlikely to get any better over the next week, as not a whole lot has changed with the Lightning since the Hawks last faced them. They dropped a game each against the dregs of the division in the Red Wings and Predators. The common thread in both those losses is that Andrei Vasilevskiy was not in the cage for either of them. In fact, Vasilevskiy hasn’t lost a game in almost a month, as his last L came on February 20th against the Canes. His backup, however, has not fared nearly as well. Curtis McElhinney has managed to go 2-3 in the same time frame, averaging more than 1.5 more goals against than Vasilevskiy does, with a considerably worse save percentage.
Despite the difference in netminder quality, Tampa head coach and professional hedonist John Cooper continues to split playing time between the two at about a 60-40% rate. Mostly because Cooper is smart enough to know that the talent level on his squad is more than enough to make up for any deficiencies in net, and it’s far more important to keep Vasilevskiy rested and healthy as they inevitably roll towards the playoffs.
Offensively, the Lightning don’t have many weak spots up and down their lineup, either from the forwards or their defensive corps. As McClure mentioned in his preview recently, the Bolts are tops in the league in goal differential which when paired with a nails penalty kill and a top 3rd power play usually results in some easy wins. Some of those stats have dipped a bit in recent weeks, but there’s no reason to think that it’s anything more than a blip on the radar as they haven’t lost anyone to injury, and Vasilevskiy is still the bees knees.
As for our Men of the Four Feathers, March has gone pretty much the way we assumed it would points-wise. I just didn’t think it would come with such spectacular meltdowns. A huge issue with the Hawks being unable to hold leads has been the fact that the special teams well has completely dried up. If you take away the 2 power play goals scored in the win at Dallas, the Hawks have gone 0 for 13 on the man advantage and managed to give up two shorthanded goals. On the other side of that coin is the penalty kill has been completely exposed in March. Much of that is the fact that they’re playing teams that have competent power plays, but the stupid penalties like the one Duncan Keith took in the last game against Florida are particularly back breaking.
Another major concern for the Hawks is Kevin Lankinen has come crashing back to earth in net. Over his last 5 starts he’s given up an average of almost 4 goals per game (19 total), and his save percentage over those games is below .900. Rebound control has become an issue, especially since the Hawks D is unwilling or unable to clear bodies away in front of him. Malcom Subban hasn’t fared any better, and with these next stretch of games becoming uber critical points-wise I wouldn’t expect to see him until the Preds series.
Offensively, the Hawks continue to get waxed night in and night out with possession metrics. They haven’t won the CORSI battle since their overtime win against the Lightning, and continue to average around a 42% share each game. When Lankinen and the power play were humming along in February and early March, the Hawks were able to paper over their inability to score at even strength. Now, however, with all of their flaws laid bare it’s becoming apparent that they’re just a tier below the Canes, Bolts and Panthers.
The majority of the Hawks even strength scoring has come on odd man rushes and not as the result of extensive offensive zone time. More often than not, their forays into the opposing team’s zone ends up being a one and done affair. Until the Hawks are able to set up shop in the opponent’s end for extended periods of time, they’re not going to be able to rack up any offense unless they start shooting at a 50% clip.
While this all seems very grim for the Hawks (and it pretty much is), they’ve shown that they can hang with teams like Tampa before. The 1st period in their last game against them where they jumped out to a 3-1 lead is proof that when things are clicking for the power play, the Hawks can play with anyone. We’ve seen flashes of what some of these kids can do, now it just needs to become more consistent. You have to figure Cooper will probably give McElhinney a start, so the Hawks pretty much have to at least get to OT in that one. Points have been hard to come by this month, and with the Preds being the only shitty team they’ll face the rest of March they absolutely have to secure every one possible. Get it done.
Let’s Go Hawks
Game Times: 7:00 (3/4, 3/5), 1:30 (3/7)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (3/4, 3/5), NBC (3/7), TVA-S (3/7), SportsNet (3/7), WGN-AM 720
Bottomless Seas: Raw Charge
After spending the majority of February floating above the detritus of the makeshift Central Division by virtue of MVP and Calder/Vezina caliber performances, the Hawks now begin March on the West Side finally facing again a Tampa Bay Lightning team that has not slowed down since dongwhipping the Hawks in the opening series, or even their playoff run in the bubble last year. “In Like A Lion”, indeed.
RECORDS: Hawks 27-28-8 Lightning 40-18-5
PUCK DROP: 6pm
TV: NBCSN Chicago
POINT AT THE SIGN: Raw Charge
I keep thinking it can’t get worse for the Hawks, or really us, and yet somehow it does. It’s certainly bad enough to go have to play the team you used to laugh at that’s now a league standard right after the trade deadline where your management made it clear they’re not much beyond cats pawing at a laser pointer. But then to have to follow that up with the team who’s been the clearest illustration of what you’ve become from what you were…well, how much more can you take? Oh right, after this they’ll have to face their former coach with the highest scoring team in the league.
We chose this.
The last three times the Hawks have faced the Lightning it’s been something of a definitive statement on their status. And if I cant throw in a Tin Cup quote (god I’m truly lost), “And the definition was shit.” Remember it was five years ago they were contesting the Final. Last year, the Lightning simply embarrassed the Hawks twice, including that 30-shot period at the UC. This year, while the score was closer, you never got the impression that the Bolts were even sweating as they calmly skated away in the 3rd period. That’s where they went after ’15, and this is where the Hawks are. And that’s back early in the season when the Lightning were fighting it.
They’re not fighting it anymore. Put it this way, since that late November dance around the maypole at the United Center, Tampa has gone 30-11-3. 63 points of the 88 on offer, which is a 117-point pace over a full season. It’s landed them second in the NHL overall, with the misfortune of the best team in the NHL being in their own division. But wouldn’t you know it, the Bs and Bolts play twice next week in something of a division decider (the Lightning probably have to take both in regulation though).
How did the Lightning turn around after an iffy opening two months? Same thing they always do. Get scoring from everywhere (six guys with 15+ goals and Johnson with 13) while NIkita Kucherov leads the way. Get great goaltending (Vasilevskiy ran a .948 in January and has been .920 since Dec. 1st). And dominate possession (fourth in both Corsi and xG% over the whole season, and second in both since Dec. 1st).
While the Lightning have a tremendous amount of firepower, it’s their defensive game that’s really the backbone of this as they’re third in both the amount of attempts they give up and their expected goals against. Their speed up and down the lineup allows them to choke space whenever they don’t have the puck, which isn’t all that much.
Of course, nothing really matters about the Lightning until April, when they’ll have a couple gremlins to work out of their heads. Last year’s first round disaster probably isn’t much more than an anomaly considering this is a team that has made three trips to the conference final at least in the past five years. It’s Vasilevskiy who will have to answer the biggest questions, as he spit up big time against Columbus and wasn’t terribly good against the Capitals the year before in the East Final. But again, this roster and this system they seem poised to do big things in the spring. You get the feeling if they can negotiate the first round boogeyman, which could end up tricky given the arsenal of Toronto or Florida or even Carolina, there might not be any stopping them.
As for the Hawks, you wonder if this isn’t about damage control. They saw their front office (rightly) declare their season over on Monday, and then while showing more gumption than you might have thought, got kicked in the nuts by the worst possible people anyway. You wouldn’t blame them if they just didn’t have it in them to chase the Bolts all over the ice tonight. Still, there’s professional pride at stake and bigger roles in the future to claim. Corey Crawford gets the start.
It’s hard to believe a team led by this group will just quit on the season, but they’re up against it tonight for sure. This is our lot in life now.
“How did it come to this?” Jon Cooper asked, as he removed his chaps and put on a robe, a little alarmed at the amount of scented massage oils on his hands and elsewhere. He looked out the window of his yacht, and no it wasn’t him wondering how he ended up with this curious yet staid housewife of Tampa, who not only wouldn’t leash him but didn’t even know what it was, but why he wasn’t working at the moment.
And that’s how most of Tampa will spend the next month or two, because God knows there’s nothing else to do there. How did the best team of the recent era go poof! before we even had time to get drunk? Move over, Leftovers, HBO is going to have a new show about a mysterious happening that no one can explain. Except the fallout will still be everyone living in Tampa or St. Pete, wondering how they got there and yet never figuring out a way to leave. Vibrant, this show will not be.
Let’s dispel the myths that will hound the Lightning through all of next year. That somehow dominating the league left them unprepared for games that meant anything. Hmmm…seems to me when you’re chasing a points and wins record, every game means something. You’re not just going through the motions. And seeing as how the last two relevant Hawks teams and the two Penguin champions basically took March off, this doesn’t hold much water (or in Cooper’s case, water-based lube). You’re professionals, almost everyone on that team was in last year’s conference final and a few before that, so to act as if they were unprepared for the playoffs is a stretch at best, an absolute falsehood at worst. It’s a foothold for the stupid.
They aren’t tough enough, that’s what every breathing-too-hard-after-three-stairs media person in Canada and in hockey will say. They lack grit. They lack heart. And Columbus doesn’t because Brandon Dubinsky yells a lot or something. Again, this is a Lightning team that’s been within no more than five wins of a Cup three times in the last five years. It must know something about advancing in the spring. Perhaps it forgot, as most residents of the area tend to with a lot of things. Or wish they could. Perhaps it’s contagious.
No, eventually, between planning his next swingers’ club outings to Tampa’s one cocktail lounge, Cooper will come to realize he just got out-coached, and his goalie barfed up a poltergeist or two. The Bolts still wanted to weave their pretty passing patterns through an amped-up and moved-up trap of Columbus. They wanted to Quenneville, when Quenneville hockey was shown to not work anymore three years ago. And it was especially silly with a battered and then absent Victor Hedman, and Mikhail Sergachev’s legs more and more covered by his own urine. Out and up was the order of the day, which is also what they tell you to be aware of when walking into Cooper’s office.
Even that doesn’t explain it all, not as much as Vasilevskiy’s .855 SV% for the series does. Whatever plan you have or the opponent has doesn’t matter much when your goalie looks like Gumby in the freezer. Pair that with Game 7 last year against the Caps, and suddenly there’s a lot of baggage in the young man’s head. Baggage he can’t do much about until next spring. Makes for a fun follow-up season, with no questions at every stop or anything.
In the end, it might be nothing more than the perfect storm of a bad week, a goalie slump, an injury or two, and every opponent getting hot. The thing with hockey is that it defies explanation a lot of the time, and trying to stab the smoke of reason it has is what lands organizations in bigger trouble than it already was.
The questions now of course will be do the Lightning panic and change things in search of the more and more nebulous “grit and heart and fire and passion and FAARRRRRTTTT?” Are players who are considered to have snuffed it on the big stage this past week all contenders to be moved along? Could there be something wrong with a group that put up the best regular season in recent memory? That’s a pretty tidy list, consisting only of Stamkos, Kucherov, Palat, Vasilevskiy, Sergachev, Point, Johnson, and Hedman. Should be easy to move all of them along, no?
Luckily the GM who was hailed a genius for trying to reconstruct the 2014 Rangers blue line isn’t around anymore, so he can’t be hurled overboard. Then again, it was his replacement who actively sought Jan Rutta, so there must be some kind of gas leak in the GM office at Amalie Arena that causes one to see a blue line as a place for surrealism. Seriously, Braydon Coburn, Rutta, and Ryan Callahan played playoff games in 2019. When you have to absolutely play at high speed, the first or second call probably shouldn’t go out to Dan Girardi or Ryan McDonagh. Maybe it’s not all that mysterious?
You know how this goes. Tampa could easily hold everything together, win next year at a canter, and then this flop will be cited as their rallying cry and inspiration among the champagne and confetti. It can be the chip on the shoulder everyone seems convinced you have to have to succeed in April and May. Hockey is nothing if not filled with people angry at figments, or their struggle to cope in the every day world.
But that will be just another Cup win. What the Lighting have done here is truly unique. Never happened before, in fact. A Cup win next spring just adds you to the list. Here you stand alone. It’s all yours. Everyone will remember this one. Which is just about the only thing memorable to happen to Tampa, ever. They say the Bucs won a Super Bowl once, after they got to play a team too stupid to change its signals to avoid detection from their old coach who just happened to be on the other sideline. All that got us were Hooters ads and some of the most awkward exchanges on Sportscenter ever seen with confused and impatient college kids. And that’s saying something. Still, I don’t believe it actually happened. I know it didn’t matter if it did.
No, this should go on all the signs. Next to Magic Mike and the reasons for not going to Rays games which consist only of, “Well, it’s over there.” (which would have made Tampa the perfect landing spot for the White Sox, come to think of it)
“Welcome to Tampa, the site of the only Presidents’ Trophy Winner to belch themselves inside-out in less than a week.” Now that’s something. They’ll come from miles to see that…or to avoid whichever machete-wielding neighbor escaped his basement dungeon that day in some podunk Florida town. Either or.
Goodnight, Tampa Bay Lightning. You are history. No, literally, you are. An accomplishment, a touchstone, a benchmark. No one else can say that this spring. Just make you take extra care to knock on Cooper’s door this summer. He’s got a lot to work out.
I know when the lights are brightest in the NHL that most analysts and media and players and coaches want to make it clear what makes their sport special. Or what they think makes this time of year special, even though no one has any idea. Or if they do they don’t want to tell anyone, for fear of…well, I haven’t any idea what they’re afraid of, but here we are. So the NARRATIVES flow like an open sewer downhill at this time. This spring, it seems that the amount of horseshit in every series has been especially amped up. Let’s keep it to this: the first night of the playoffs, during the first intermission of the Isles-Pens game, Liam McHugh set up professional hairpiece with a highlight of Brock Nelson’s power play goal and asked Eddie, “How did the Islanders score on the power play.” Eddie’s answer, “Confidence.” Jesus fucking christ.
So let’s start with the biggest story of the first round, the Lightning’s capitulation to Columbus. Last year, the story that everyone wanted to push was that the Caps intimidated the Lightning. That the Bolts were soft. They weren’t up for this kind of time of year, even though a great majority of this team has been to a couple conference finals and a Stanley Cup Final. Perhaps the main reason was that Braden Holtby was putting up a back-t0-back shutouts in Game 6 and 7 and John Cooper only used one puck-mover to bust through a Trotz trap. So those whispers and headlines were always bubbling underneath the surface waiting to be cracked open by anyone who didn’t want to bother to explain what was happening to Tampa should they not roll to victory.
Which apparently spread to the Lightning themselves, because there’s no logical reason that after just one loss, Nikita Kucherov and others should be running around doing a Tom Wilson impression instead of doing what they did all year, which is just score all the time. Now the Lightning are playing the wrong game.
And even then, really the only thing you need to know about this series are two numbers: .866 and .940. That’s Vasilevskiy’s and Bobrovsky’s save-percentages this series. Everything else is pretty much even, if not tilted to to the Bolts a bit. Vas is letting everything in. There you go. It doesn’t have to mean more than that. It doesn’t have to be more than that. One goalie is making stops.
Meanwhile, every series save the Flames and Avalanche and the Caps and Hurricanes has descended into a cesspool. The hockey has been pretty horrific to watch, and every goddamn whistle becomes a dick-measuring contest. We like our playoff hockey with passion and a bit of bile but this has gone beyond even a level of stupidity. Which is how you end up with Nazem Kadri, already a shithead, trying to be an axe-murderer. Or analysts trying to tell you how important Ryan Reaves is.
It’s been accented because there haven’t been that many close games. And when playoff games have obvious winners in the 3rd period, there seems to be some tenet of hockey written by someone who struggled to breathe that you have to act like a petulant child. That you have to “send a message,” which doesn’t amount more than to losing like an asshole. Every other sport, if you were to clobber guys in the lane in the NBA in the 4th quarter or start throwing at guys heads in the 8th inning of a loss, you’d be mocked endlessly and probably suspended. In hockey it’s the thing to do. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, as hockey is filled with a bunch of rich white kids who tend not to react well when things don’t go their way. Taking it on the chin isn’t in the vocabulary.
This kind of thing tends to dry up as we get to the business end of series and moving on or going home gets awfully clear in the viewfinder. We can only hope. I already watch Monday Night Raw for my fill of bad booking.
SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday 6pm, Game 2 Friday 6pm, Game 3 Sunday 6pm, Game 4 April 16th 6pm
This is what happens when you’re the best—you get the first-round match-up that should be a breeze. There are of course reasons why it may not be a total incineration, but not only are the Lightning far and away the best team in the league, they’ve also been particularly adept at fucking with the Blue Jackets. I think we all know how this ends, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a closer look:
Goalies: It’s strange to start off saying Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t the better goalie in a match-up, but here we are. And in fact that’s not totally fair—Bob is still plenty good and is the most important player on the team (Panarin devotees, calm down). Aside from the loss to Boston a few days ago, he hasn’t had a game with a save percentage below .920 since mid-March, and he went 7-1 the last two weeks including throwing three shutouts. But those weren’t against the Ning. In fact, two came against non-playoff teams.
The issue isn’t just if Bobrovsky is talented enough to handle the Lightning’s obscene scoring ability—he could definitely make a run at that in a vacuum—but it’s whether he can do so despite getting rattled by this team this year and also if he can do so in the playoffs, where he’s typically struggled. Maybe if it were a more suspect goalie on the other side of the ice one would say yes, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is not suspect. Not only is his playoff record stronger (.919 SV%, 2.68 GAA vs. Bob’s .891 and 3.49), but he’s been outstanding his last couple games to boot (2-0, .944 SV% in April) without any of the drama that Bob & Co. have been dealing with to make it into the playoffs. Throw in the fact that getting pulled against Tampa back in January led to a tantrum from Bob and some resulting scratches, and it doesn’t bode well for Columbus. Yes, Bobrovsky can always steal a game and certainly gives you a chance on any given night, but with Vasilevskiy in goal there’s not much room for error.
Defense: The big news for the Lightning is that Victor Hedman is practicing, but if he’ll play or what level of brown brain he may have are still open questions. None of their other defensemen’s possession numbers are going to blow you away, and it’s been known all season that their defense isn’t otherworldly, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the fact that their offense is. Remember, this team is actually playing Jan Rutta right now so that should tell you something.
But are the Jackets really any better? They give up fewer shots per game, and their PK is tied with the Lightning for best in the league (85%). So there’s certainly a case to be made, but it’s the quality of the offense they’re facing that’s going to make the difference. Can Zach Werenski and Seth Jones really handle either of the top two Tampa lines? You’d be forgiven for being skeptical. In their three games this season, no one could. The Jackets gave up 17 goals to the Lightning and it’s not like Tampa’s gotten worse over that time.
Forwards: Here’s where the Lightning are at their most ridiculous. You already know—the speed, the scoring ability, Kucherov with 128 points, Stamkos and Point with 98 and 92, respectively, yada yada yada. They’re fucking good. But what about so many Hawks fans’ wet dream, Artemi Panarin, with his 87 points? Sure, fine, whatever, but the Jackets just don’t have the scoring depth the Lightning have. No one does. The top line of Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are no bums or anything, and their numbers bear that out just fine (55 CF%, 57 GF%, 55.8 HDCF%), but there’s just not enough beyond them.
Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have done basically jack shit since coming to Columbus, and sure, Oliver Bjorkstrand is on a streak right now with goals in nine of his last 10 games and a total of 23, but if that top line on the Jackets is shut down, they don’t have anyone to answer with. And once the record gets really lopsided and Panarin and Bob start thinking about that Florida sunshine and lack of income tax, their give-a-shit meters might just float away with their thoughts.
Prediction: I’m going to be very generous here and say that Bob steals one for the Jackets. Maybe Hedman can’t go, maybe the Lightning defense shits the bed a little too much, and maybe Panarin’s line has a big night. But they won’t get much more than one, so they better enjoy it. Lightning in 5.
Geofitz is a contributor at RawCharge.com. Follow him on Twitter @GeoFitz.
How big is Vasilevskiy’s injury? Could it be something of a blessing in disguise in that he’ll be fresh come April?
Whenever you’re talking about a Vezina caliber goalie going out with an injury, it’s big. But you’re right that it is a bit of a blessing that it’s coming now rather than later in the year. The Lightning went out and got Louis Domingue as a reclamation project during last season and decided to go with him as the back-up over the older Peter Budaj. The coaching staff has been talking that they wanted to limit Vasilevskiy to around 60 starts and now they are basically forced to with this injury. One good thing is that this is a fairly easy stretch of schedule with more non-playoff teams than playoff teams on the schedule between now and when Vasilevskiy is expected to return.
Brayden Point busted out last year with 66 points, but is topping it this year. Is it just the 28% shooting percentage? Something else? And what about his contract situation in the summer?
It’s hard to see his goal totals continuing to go as they have early this year because of that unsustainable shooting percentage. But with the way he plays, it’s certainly not out of the question for him to reach 80 points and be in the Selke conversation. Patrice Bergeron obviously has that award on lock down, but in Point you’re potentially looking at the next Bergeron. As for his contract, that’s hard to say. There’s a lot of moving pieces coming up over the next two summers. Besides Point, Sergachev and Vasilevskiy will also be up for some big new contracts too. The Lightning could try to bridge him with a deal similar to what they did with Kucherov, but if he does have an 80-point season, that may be difficult. I’m confident they will get something done. Point is a team player and I don’t think this will be a Nylander situation.
Same question as Point, but about Yanni Gourde.
Yanni Gourde is quite the success story. Undrafted and unwanted. Earned an ELC with Tampa when San Jose declined to offer him one. And now he has long-term financial security. I know it’s a cliche to say this, but it’s true with Gourde; he has a motor that never stops. He is always on the go. He’s also a lot like Brendan Gallagher in that he is not afraid of going to the rough areas despite his smaller stature. That bulldog mentality has served him well and will continue to. Even if his production dips from what it was last year and what he is putting up so far this year, his contract isn’t likely to be an albatross and represents a discount on his current production level.
Deep down, they know they can’t play Dan Girardi with Hedman forever, right?
When the Lightning signed Girardi, I was pessimistic on one hand, but optimistic on the other hand. The big question was could he show himself to be more effective in a lesser role where he doesn’t have to be a #2 defenseman. His advanced stats still don’t look great, but the staff is at least keeping his minutes down. He is last in EV TOI and 5th in overall TOI among the Lightning’s defense. Hedman gets some breaks from carrying Girardi around by taking the occasional shift with Sergachev or Anton Stralman. Hedman plays two minutes more EV TOI per game than Girardi does.
Bonus Answer (No, seriously, he just gave us this. Imagine enjoying your team that much)
A couple of young rookies to keep your eye on are Anthony Cirelli and Mathieu Joseph. Cirelli got an extended cup of coffee at the end of last year and played in every playoff game for the Lightning as a rookie professional. Joseph made the team out of camp this year. Together, they’ve formed a strong third line with veteran Alex Killorn. They have some of the best advanced statistics on of any line on the team. They don’t get as much ice time as the big boys for obvious reasons, but they are always on the puck and creating chances. The trio would have more points and goals in their pockets if they had been able to find some luck earlier in the year when it seemed like they couldn’t catch a break with posts and missed shots. Cirelli is everything you could ask for in a third-line two-way center that plays a 200-foot game. Joseph is a blazer with his speed. Over and over this year, we’ve watched him get icings waved off because defensemen loafed it to the puck while he blew the doors off of them to get to the puck.
Game #23 Preview Suite
While the Penguins and Capitals take part in what is almost a rote annual exercise at this point elsewhere in the East, since the Bruins made it clear they had their shit together this year around Thanksgiving, this has been the de facto conference final that they and the Lightning have been on a collision course for. And it’s sure to provide some of the most entertaining hockey of the post-season.
Schedule: G1 Thursday, G2 Saturday, G3 April 16th, G4 April 18th
After a serious push and some back and forth from the Bruins in the Flortheast division, ultimately the division and the top record in the east were held by the favored, well-rounded, and supple Tampa Bay Lightning, doing what they were supposed to do during the regular season. Their opponent, however, is somewhat unexpected in the New Jersey Devils, who managed to fall ass backwards into a playoff spot after a hot streak that saw them leading the Metro division even around Christmas time even in the middle of a supposed rebuild.