TAMPA — Here are six matchups that could define the Tampa Bay Lightning-Boston Bruins' best-of-seven series, which starts at 3 p.m. Saturday at Amalie Arena:
Boston's Tuukka Rask beat the Lightning three times in four games this season, posting a .926 save percentage. He struggled, though, against the Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs when his save percentage dropped to .899 percent over the seven-game series while posting a 2.94 goals against average. Rask can look ordinary, as he did early in Game 7 vs. the Leafs.
The Lightning have the edge here with Andrei Vasilevskiy. The Vezina Trophy finalist had a .941 saves percentage and a 2.01 goals against average in the five-game series against the Devils. He did not allow an even strength goal in the final two games.
The Bruins top line of left wing Brad Marchand (3-6—9 points in the playoffs), center Patrice Bergeron (1-7—8) and right wing David Pastrnak (5-8—13) is very imposing. They combined for 99 goals and 228 points during the regular season. The Lightning will counter with Ondrej Palat, Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson, the line that shut down the Devils' top-line last series.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy does not play the matchup game as much as some coaches. He will match the Bergeron line against the other team's top line. He will also use his fourth line of left wing Tim Schaller, center Sean Kuraly and right wing Noel Acciari in the same fashion. So, expect both lines to face J.T. Miller, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.
Keep an eye on
LW Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins 21-year-old rookie scored five goals against the Leafs, including the game-winner in Game 7. He plays a physical game and has the skills of a goal-scorer.
The Bruins' power play was second among all 16 teams in the first round with a 31.8 percent success rate. The Lightning was able to roll past the Devils based on the strength of a penalty kill that had a 84.2 percent success rate. The matchup this series is different from the last, so it will be interesting to see how the Lightning penalty kill measures up to the Bergeron line when that line had the man advantage.
Could be an issue
Faceoffs. In Bergeron, the Bruins boast one of the elite faceoff men in the NHL. He won 57.31 percent of his faceoffs during the regular season and 60.96 during the first round. The Lightning do not have anyone nearly that good. While the Lightning has improved in the dot during the second half of the season, drawing against Bergeron will be a major test.
Experience favors the Lightning since Jon Cooper has coached into the conference semifinals three times in four postseason appearances. The Lightning are 29-23 in the playoffs with Cooper behind the bench. His style divers from Bruce Cassidy in that Cooper is more of a match-up coach. Cassidy won his first series in three trips to the postseason as an NHL coach. He has an 8-11 record. Experience should help, though that can be irrelevant if one goalie becomes incredibly hot and the other one not so much.
Contact Roger Mooney at email@example.com. Follow @rogermooney50