"I assumed last year would be the year," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "I don't think anyone saw the Columbus [sweep] coming. We assumed we'd get them in the second round. We took care of business. Here we are the second round this year even though it's a different format."
The Atlantic Division adversaries have forged quite the rivalry over the past three seasons as they've battled for league supremacy. Since the start of the 2017-18 season, the Lightning and Bruins rank first and second, respectively, in wins (159 to 143), points (333 to 319), and power-play success (25.2% to 24.9%). Tampa also ranks first in goals for (852), while Boston ranks first in goals allowed (590).
Overall during that time, the teams have combined for eight postseason series victories, with each having an Eastern Conference Final appearance on its resume, and the Bruins boasting their Stanley Cup Final trip from a season ago.
"They're a very good team," said Brad Marchand. "It's going to be a fun series. It's going to be very tough and it's going to be difficult to play but going through this you want to play good teams…it's gonna be a good matchup. Looking forward to the challenge.
"We're going to have to be at the top of our game to compete with them and play with them. It is a measuring stick…these are the series that people want to see and this is a series the guys want to be part of and playing.
"That's what makes the Cup worth it because you've got to play teams like Tampa."
Here's a closer look at the second-round matchup between the Bruins and Lightning, which kicks off Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and 98.5 The Sports Hub:
All Lined Up
Here's how the Bruins are expected to line up on Sunday night:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie - Charlie Coyle - Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton
Scratches: Karson Kuhlman, Jeremy Lauzon, Par Lindholm, John Moore, and Jack Studnicka.
"With bigger guys like [Victor] Hedman and [Mikhail] Sergachev and [Zach] Bogosian back there, certainly they'll get up the ice, not so much Bogosian, but you know [Erik] Cernak's a big guy, you might need bigger bodies in the offensive zone to get inside against that group," Cassidy said of potentially inserting Nick Ritchie back into the lineup.
"I thought we were able to get inside against Carolina's D, I don't know if that will be the case against Tampa…[playing] Tampa you're probably going to see Nick. They've got some bigger heavier forwards as well that he could match up well against too, so just a better overall matchup for him.
"He'll probably play with Coyle, and then we'd look at the right side, who's the best fit, is it a Bjork? Is it Jack [Studnicka]? We tried Kuraly back over there, we tried that in training camp, didn't work out that well for us, they didn't find the chemistry, so probably not a route we'd go unless we were forced to."
Video: Cassidy addresses media on Saturday
After being ousted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a stunning four-game sweep last spring, the Lightning returned for 2019-20 with plenty to prove. While they did not play to their record-setting, Presidents' Trophy pace from last season, the Bolts showed they were still a team to be reckoned with.
Tampa finished second in the East - 8 points behind the Bruins who took over as the Presidents' Trophy champs - with a 43-21-6 record. Former Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov paced Tampa during the regular season with 33 goals and 85 points in 68 games, with Steven Stamkos (29-37-66) and Brayden Point (25-39-64) also topping the 60-point plateau.
The Lightning solidified their third line at the trade deadline by acquiring wingers Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. With Stamkos sidelined - he has not played since the restart as he battles through an injury - they've flanked Yanni Gourde, creating one of the best third units in the league.
"Well, I think they've created an identity for themselves," Cassidy said of Tampa's third line. "They started a lot of games, after goals - any time they need a little energy. They're relentless. They're on the puck. The offense is coming a little bit. Gourde has scored in this league, Coleman a little bit, Goodrow not as much but they seem to gel.
"Good pickups at the deadline. I think it's mostly the way they hem you in and put pressure on your team. It allows the next couple lines coming over the boards to get some - I don't want to say easy possessions but an easier shift after that trio has worn you down."
Even without Stamkos - who is not available for the time being, per Lightning coach Jon Cooper - the Lightning are nails down the middle, boasting Point, Anthony Cirelli, Gourde, and Mitchel Stephens.
On the back end, the Lightning are led by former Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman, who notched 55 points (11 goals, 44 assists) in 66 games.
Former Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy was 35-14-3 with a 2.56 goals against average and .917 save percentage in 52 regular-season games.
"They have a bit of a different makeup now," said Marchand. "They compete a lot harder with more physicality, and obviously they have a ton of talent. Very fast, pretty quick. They have everything. They have all the makings of a great team so it will be a big challenge."
Video: Carlo and Marchand talk round two of playoffs
Since the restart, the Lightning went 2-1 during round-robin play to clinch the second seed in the East, before exacting some revenge on the Blue Jackets with a five-game victory in the first round, which was highlighted by their historic five-overtime victory in Game 1.
Point has been immense so far, notching 10 points (five goals, five assists) in eight games, including the series-clinching, overtime winner in Game 5 against the Blue Jackets. Kucherov has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in eight games.
Vasilevskiy has played all eight contests, going 6-2-0 with 1.98 goals against average and .927 save percentage.
Video: Cooper talks to media ahead of Sunday's Game 1
Projected Tampa Bay lineup:
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Tyler Johnson
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Patrick Maroon - Mitchell Stephens - Cedric Paquette
Victor Hedman - Zach Bogosian
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Kevin Shattenkirk
The Bruins and Lightning have squared off five times this season, including once during the NHL's restart, with Tampa holding a 4-1 edge. David Pastrnak and Marchand paced the Bruins with five points apiece against the Lightning, while Point led Tampa with four points against Boston in the regular season.
In goal, Tuukka Rask - now away from the team - and Andrei Vasilevskiy played all four regular-season games and the round-robin. Vasilevskiy was 3-1 with a 2.46 goals against average and .928 save percentage.
Now, it will be Jaroslav Halak's turn to take on the Lightning between the pipes, a team he has not faced since 2017-18 as a member of the New York Islanders.
"I'm sure Jaro will reach out to [Rask] if he feels there's information there," said Cassidy. "[Goalie coach Bob Essensa] puts together a goalie breakdown for our shooters, but he doesn't put together a shooting breakdown for our goaltenders. But he does talk to them. I'm sure he has tidbits on the guys that take the majority of their shots.
"There is information out there. How much he wants is probably his call. Some goalies would be different. They just want to play. Other ones want to know pretty much every little bit of information."
Sean Kuraly (14 PIMS) and Barclay Goodrow (11 PIMS) were the leaders in penalty minutes. Both power plays performed well with the Bruins going 4 for 14 (28.6%) and Tampa going 3 for 9 (33.3%).
October 17 at Boston | Bruins 3, Lightning 4
In the team's first meeting of the year, Stamkos delivered the winner in the shootout. David Pastrnak had two goals for Boston.
Video: BOS Recap: Pastrnak, Bruins lose to Lightning in SO
December 12 at Tampa | Bruins 2, Lightning 3
Patrice Bergeron opened the scoring, but Stamkos was at it again, potting two goals in the Lightning victory.
Video: BOS Recap: Bergeron, Bjork score in 3-2 defeat
March 3 at Tampa | Bruins 2, Lightning 1
In one of Boston's strongest all-around efforts of the season, Marchand and Jake DeBrusk potted the goals and the B's held off a late Tampa surge.
Video: Marchand, DeBrusk lift Bruins to victory
March 7 at Boston | Bruins 3, Lightning 5
The rivals met again just four days later and there was plenty of hate to go around. In what many viewed as a playoff preview, the teams combined for 94 penalty minutes. Despite the loss, the Bruins felt they had shown a strong level of team unity ahead of the postseason.
Video: BOS Recap: Pastrnak scores 48th goal in 5-3 loss
August 5 at Toronto | Bruins 2, Lightning 3
The teams met just under two weeks ago for a round-robin matchup. Tampa built a 2-0 lead that was erased by tallies from Chris Wagner and Charlie McAvoy. But the Lightning responded as Tyler Johnson potted the winner with 1:27 remaining in regulation.
Video: BOS Recap: Bruins drop to Lightning, 3-2
The Bruins are 1-1 in two previous series against the Lightning, with Tampa holding a 7-5 edge over 12 games.
2018 Second Round - Boston 1, Tampa 4
2011 East Final - Boston 4, Tampa 3
Last Postseason Meeting
The last time the Bruins met the Lightning in the postseason, things didn't end so well. After a seven-game epic against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins entered the second round with some momentum, taking Game 1 in somewhat convincing fashion.
Rick Nash and Patrice Bergeron potted two goals apiece and Tuukka Rask made 34 saves on 36 shots (yes, we know you remember the loose skate blade game) in the 6-2 victory.
But that was all the B's could muster. Tampa proved to be too much, as they shut down Boston almost entirely at 5-on-5 the rest of the way and went on to win four straight and oust the B's in five games en route to a trip to the Eastern Conference Final.
"At the end of the day, we've grown since then, I think we're a better team," said Cassidy. "I believe we've had more playoff experience. Now it's going to be two very evenly matched teams going at it. Each team is probably not 100% healthy but for the most part we have strong lineups and are ready to go."
Marchand believes that Boston's growth on the back end over the past two years is among the biggest differences for the Bruins. In 2018, McAvoy was playing in just his third playoff series, while Matt Grzelcyk was in the midst of his first postseason. Brandon Carlo, meanwhile, missed the entire series with after suffering a broken leg during the final weekend of the regular season.
"I think we've grown on the back end with how fast we're playing now," said Marchand. "Our D are a couple years older and stronger and more used to that tempo. I think that's a huge strength of our team with how much stronger our defensive group is right now. Every year that goes by the experience that you gain and situations you go through just helps you grow. I just think our D core right now is on another level where we're a couple years ago."
- Tyler Seguin tied an NHL record for points in a playoff period with two goals and two assists in the second period of a 6-5 Boston win over Tampa Bay on May 17, 2011 in their Conference Final series.
- David Krejci tied a club record for game-winning goals in one playoff year with his fourth of the postseason in a 2-0 Boston win over Tampa Bay on May 19, 2011 in Game 3 of their Conference Final series.
- Krejci became the first Bruin in 20 years with a playoff hat trick with three goals on May 25, 2011 in a 5-4 loss to the Lightning in Game 6 of their Conference Final series. Cam Neely had scored the previous Boston playoff hat trick on Apr. 25, 1991.
- The Bruins and Lightning played a penalty-free Game 7 on May 27, 2011, as Tim Thomas made 24 saves for the 1-0 win. It was the first time in team history that the Bruins had played two Games 7 in one playoff year (they would finish that postseason having played three Games 7) and was also the latest date at that time that they had ever played a postseason game.
Game 1: Sunday, August 23 at 8 p.m. ET (NBC, 98.5)
Game 2: Tuesday, August 25 at 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN, 98.5)
Game 3: Wednesday, August 26 at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN, 98.5)
Game 4: Friday, August 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET (USA, 98.5)
Game 5: Sunday, August 30 at TBD (TBD, 98.5)*
Game 6: Tuesday, September 1 at TBD (TBD, 98.5)*
Game 7: Wednesday, September 2 at TBD (TBD, 98.5)*
"A little surprised it came out that way," Cassidy said of there being two back-to-backs in the series. "I'm not part of that decision making but it sure would be easier for us [without those]. I'm sure Tampa would say the same. But, at the end of the day, you play the games where they tell you to play and what time.
"For us, obviously the biggest challenge is the advantage we lost in March with two healthy goalies. Now, Tuukka is not here, so do we play [Dan] Vladar as a backup? Or do we have to ride Halak? And that's a lot to ask for Jaro. So that's going to be a decision we make down the road. That'll be the biggest challenge."