RALEIGH, N.C. — This season’s restructured playoff format, which reseeded teams in the Stanley Cup semifinal round, created plenty of uncertainty regarding who teams will face.
But after several first-round upsets, the matchups are becoming more clear.
If the Lightning emerge from their second-round Central Division matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes, they will face a familiar foe in the Cup semis.
Instead of a traditionally seeded bracket format, the final four teams will be reseeded based on regular season points.
Because of that, the winner of the Lightning-Hurricanes series will be locked into the No. 2 seed, and therefore face the winner of the East Division series between the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins.
The Lightning beat both of those teams on their way to last year’s Stanley Cup title in the bubble, defeating the Bruins in the second round in five games and dispatching the Islanders in the Eastern Conference finals in six games. Tampa Bay then went on to beat the Dallas Stars in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
Because this year’s division realignment scheduled only division opponents in the regular season, the Lightning haven’t played the Bruins or Islanders this season.
The Islanders tied their best-of-seven series with the Bruins at 1-1 with a 4-3 sudden-death overtime win in Game 2 Monday night.
First-round upsets by the Winnipeg Jets (63 points) and the Montreal Canadiens (59 points) in the North Division, as well as East Division first-round wins by the Bruins (73 points) and Islanders (71 points) gave clarity to a muddled playoff picture.
The winner of the second-round series between West Division teams Colorado and Vegas will be the top seed in the semifinals. Both teams had a league-high 82 points in the regular season.
Carolina finished with 80 points, and the Lightning ended the regular season with 75 points, slotting the winner of that series into the second seed regardless of the outcome.
After winning Sunday’s series opener in Raleigh, the Lightning take a 1-0 series lead into tonight’s Game 2 at PNC Arena. The series moves to Amalie Arena for Games 3 and 4 on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.
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