Bruins & Lightning Just About Even
By Patrick Hoffman
**This article was originally drafted on March 22, 2018**
When it comes to the Eastern Conference this season, teams like the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and even the Columbus Blue Jackets have not been the powerhouses that they were last season.
The top two teams in the conference this season are the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins. In fact, they are two of the top three teams in the National Hockey League and are currently (As of March 22, 2018) two points and six points behind the Predators, respectively, for the top spot in the league.
With just four points separating these two teams (As of March 22, 2018), I believe that when it comes to who the better team is, they really are even. Yes, the Lightning have more points, and yes, the Lightning may have more firepower up front, but these two teams are really neck and neck.
Tampa Bay Lightning
On offense, this team is absolutely electric. With guys like Nikita Kucherov (94 points), Steven Stamkos (85 points), Brayden Point (58 points), Yanni Gourde (56 points), Tyler Johnson (48 points), Alex Killorn (42 points), and now JT Miller (50 points), putting the puck in the net is not a problem.
When it comes to the team's defensemen, no one is better than Victor Hedman (53 points). He's a stud in both his own zone and the offensive zone. With guys like Anton Stralman, Dan Girardi Ryan McDonagh, and Mikhail Sergachev rounding out the defensive corps, this team has a blue line that has a chance to be special in the playoffs.
In goal, all-star Andrei Vasilevskiy has been an absolute workhorse this season. He's played in 59 games this season (As of March 22, 2018) and has been one of the team's best players. The only fear is that he will be both physically and mentally tired come April and will not be able to play up to his full potential to help his team get to the level they think they can get to.
This team, after missing the postseason dance is last year, appears to be primed and ready to take a shot at winning their second Stanley Cup in franchise history. It is just a matter of putting everything together consistently at the most important time of the season.
The Bruins also have a special offense this season. Players like Brad Marchand (75 points), David Pastrnak (70 points), Patrice Bergeron (54 points), Danton Heinen (42 points), Riley Nash (40 points) and newcome Rick Nash (34 points) are all key cogs in the Bruins' offensive machine.
Defensively, this team has been solid all season long. Torey Krug (52 points) and the injured Charlie McAvoy (32 points) have been leading the way while guys like team captain Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller, and Brandon Carlo provide solid depth on the back end.
Bruins' masked man Tuukka Rask has had another fine season for his hockey club. As of this writing (March 22, 2018), Rask, 31, is 30-11-5 with a 2.35 goals against average, a .916 save percentage and three shutouts. Rask took this team on a deep run in 2013, so he is more than capable of doing it again, especially with the team that he has in front of him.
This is the Bruins' best chance since 2013 to capture there second cup in seven seasons. They have the roster to do it, but now, it's about going out and actually doing it and having their best players be their best players when it matters most.
One and the Same
These two clubs are one and the same folks. It's just a matter of who will be playing their best hockey when push comes to shove.
Previously, Patrick has covered the NHL for Sportsnet.ca, Kukla’s Korner, Spector’s Hockey, About.com, NHL Network Radio blog, TheHockeyNews.com, The Fourth Period, Stan Fischler’s “The Fischler Report”, as well as a slew of others.