Lightning’s Cup party about to run into trouble

DIRK SHADD   |   Times  Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) takes the puck in front for a scoring chance as he is stopped by Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) with help form defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Tuesday evening (04/03/18).
DIRK SHADD | Times Tampa Bay Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov (86) takes the puck in front for a scoring chance as he is stopped by Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) with help form defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) during first period action at the Amalie Arena in Tampa Tuesday evening (04/03/18).
Published April 27 2018

TAMPA — Lightning vs. Bruins. This is it. This is the series everyone has been waiting for, the series everyone wanted.

But, Lightning fans, you needed to be a little more careful.

Because you — and your team — are about to get what you wished for. The big, bad Bruins.

Sorry, but this is where the Lightning's story ends. The end of the party. Closing time.

I know. I know. That's not what you expect to read from a Tampa Bay news outlet. Hey, you want a cheerleader or straight talk?

Anyway, look at this way: if I'm wrong, you can give me the business forever.

Until then, this is my story and I'm sticking to it. The Lightning is about to run into the best team in hockey.

The Bruins' line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron is the most dominant line on the planet. By far. They are unstoppable unless the Lightning is going to use lasers from outer space or something.

The Bruins are bigger than the Lightning. Maybe a little tougher. A tad stingier defensively. And, well, just better.

Not that the Lightning is all that far behind. In fact, it wouldn't be a Miracle on Ice if the Lightning won this series. Tampa Bay is more than capable. I just don't think it will.

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"This is going to be a very good series," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "Two very good teams that are very familiar with each other from over the years."

We can break down the regular season if you want. The Lightning went 1-3 in the four meetings against the Bruins. It played poorly in two of those games and well in the other two. The last time the teams met, the Lightning smothered Boston in a 4-0 shutout. A dominant performance.

So, what did we learn?

"I think you learn that the regular season means nothing," Stamkos said.

Maybe he's right. The last time the Lightning played the Bruins, Stamkos was out with injury. So were a bunch of Bruins. How do you measure all that?

Lightning coach Jon Cooper found a silver lining: "Those last couple of games were a little bit of a confidence boost for our guys in that we could play with them."

Until then, there was plenty of doubt. See, there's a long history between the teams — a history that has not been very kind to the Lightning.

Maybe what has happened over the past two decades has no impact on what will happen over the next two weeks.

Still. When you look at the history, you can't help but make the Bruins the favorites. The Lightning almost never wins in Boston. Just eight times in 54 games. In the past seven seasons, the Bruins are 18-5-1 against Tampa Bay.

That has to mean something, doesn't it?

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Lightning players shrug and scoff at such a notion. They point out that the Lightning didn't beat the Devils once in the regular season, then hammered them in five games in the opening round of these playoffs.

Okay, so what about playoff experience?

"Two teams that have been there before with guys who have a lot of playoff experience," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.

Callahan is right. No team has a distinct advantage when it comes to postseason experience.

It really does look like a toss-up on paper.

So why pick the Bruins? Call it a gut feeling. Or maybe nothing more than a guess.

Can the Lightning win? Of course.
Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is certainly capable of outplaying Boston's Tuukka Rask. The Lightning has proven it can, at times, shut down the Bruins' offense. Any team that has the likes of Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point can outscore any other team. In a matchup of coaching strategy, I give the edge to Cooper over Boston's Bruce Cassidy.

The Lightning has home-ice advantage and it comes into the series a little more rested.

It should be a heck of a series.

"It's going to be fun," Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.
"This is what it's all about," Callahan said. "Obviously, we're playing one of the best teams in the East. These are two teams that were close in the regular season, a bit of a rivalry. This is what it's all about and we're excited for the challenge."

Let's see if the Lightning is still excited about it in a week. I have my doubts.

Contact Tom Jones at tjones@tampabay.com. Follow @tomwjones.

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