TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the NHL playoffs. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins held Zoom sessions on Saturday ahead of Game 1 on Sunday night.
The Bruins and Lightning combined for 94 penalty minutes, five misconducts and four fighting majors in their final regular season encounter back on March 7. Tampa Bay seemed determined to make a point that night at TD Garden.
"They have a bit of a different make-up now," observed Bruins winger Brad Marchand. "They compete a lot harder. They are a lot more physical."
Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman, acquired in February trades as the Lightning sought to add some sandpaper to their lineup, made an immediate impact on the rivalry with Boston. Coleman received a misconduct for mixing things up with Marchand in that game on March 7 while Goodrow dropped the gloves with Chris Wagner and also took a roughing penalty on Patrice Bergeron.
"That game, specifically, felt like a playoff game," Goodrow said. "It was the most intense game I played before the stoppage. It was fun and I'm sure that’s what this whole series will be about."
The Bruins and Lightning open their second round series on Sunday night in Toronto. They also faced off in the second round of the playoffs in 2018 with Tampa moving on in five games.
"We've had some pretty intense games with them since," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper, "and usually they're one-goal games and usually there's some sort of fireworks that have happened. It's two competitive teams and two teams that have been at the top of the standings battling it out over the years so that's what you're going to get. If the series is anything like the last time we played them up in Boston it should be a fun one."
"It's two teams that play with a lot of pride," said Lightning defenceman Ryan McDonagh. "The intensity is going to be there for sure so if you're not prepared or ready for that physicalness and prepared to play at a high pace you'll be exposed."
The Lightning are a different team and Marchand believes the Bruins have also taken a big step since that 2018 loss especially on defence with Charlie McAvoy (22-years-old), Brandon Carlo (23), Connor Clifton (25) and Matt Grzelcyk (26) coming into their own.
"We've grown on the back end with how fast we're playing now," Marchand said. "Our D are a couple years older and stronger and more used to that tempo and I think that's a huge strength of our team. Every year that goes by the experience that you gain and situations you go through just helps you grow and I just think our D corps now is on another level from a couple years ago."
The Lightning edged the Bruins 3-2 in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart on Aug. 5. In that game Coleman dropped the gloves with Torey Krug, Goodrow took a charging penalty on Anders Bjork while Brayden Point and McAvoy took roughing penalties. And that was only the appetizer.
"These are the series that people want to see," Marchand said, "and these are the series that guys want to be part of and play in. You know, this is what makes the Cup worth it because you have to play teams like Tampa ... They're very fast, have a great goalie, they have everything."
If the Lightning-Bruins series goes the distance that means the teams will play seven games in 11 days. There are two back-to-back sets in the schedule (Games 2-3 and, if needed, 6-7).
How challenging is that for the Bruins?
"Very," said coach Bruce Cassidy. "A little surprised it came out that way [instead] of alternating nights."
In normal circumstances playing on consecutive days might have been an advantage for the Bruins, who saw Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak team up to win the William M. Jennings Trophy this season. But Rask, a Vezina Trophy nominee, has left the bubble for family reasons so Halak, 35, must carry the load and he hasn't started on consecutive nights since Nov. 10-11, 2018. Boston's newly designated back-up, 23-year-old Dan Vladar, has yet to play an NHL game.
"Do we play Vladar or do we have to ride Halak," Cassidy mused, "that's a lot to ask for Jaro."
Lightning starter Andrei Vasilevskiy has not started on back-to-back nights this season, but is nine years younger than Halak. And, if needed, back-up Curtis McElhinney is a veteran of 237 NHL games.
The series pits perennial Selke Trophy nominee (and four-time winner) Bergeron against 23-year-old Anthony Cirelli, an emerging two-way force.
"The similarity between the two of them is they think the same," observed Cooper. "They don't sacrifice any inch of the ice. They're just responsible players and not all guys are like that. Tony, as he matures in this league, I think more offence is going to come. During big moments they both seem to come to the forefront ... but one's been in the league a lot longer and is a lot more experienced and we hope, at some point, Tony's trajectory in this league and his career is going to go that way."
Bergeron has scored at least 30 goals in five of the last seven seasons while Cirelli's career high, set in his rookie season of 2018-19, is 19.
"Bergeron's game has really evolved especially the offensive side of it," said Cooper. "He's really taken steps as he's grown in this league and that's what Tony’s eventually going to have to do."
Pulled in Game 2 and almost pulled again in Game 5, Flyers goalie Carter Hart held his nerve in a battle against his childhood idol, Carey Price, and the Canadiens. In his Stanley Cup playoff debut, Hart stopped 217 of 230 shots over six games (.943 save percentage) as Philadelphia, long labelled a goalie graveyard, advanced to the second round for the first time since 2012.
"It's remarkable," gushed general manager Chuck Fletcher. "He's 22-years-old and he's out there giving us a chance to win every game. He's obviously very talented and his track record speaks for itself, but maybe the most impressive thing about Carter is if he gives up a bad goal or a game doesn't go as well as he wants it to he just has this uncanny ability to bounce back and really our team has taken on that persona the second half of the season as well. We'll have a bad shift, a bad period, a bad game, but we find a way to get going again and Carter has that mentality and as he continues to grow he'll give us a chance to be competitive for a while."
The Flyers haven't dropped consecutive games since early January in part because they do a good job of protecting their goalie. Fletcher credits new coach Alain Vigneault and his staff for creating a strong culture.
"We're a team that now has an identity," Fletcher explained. "A season ago, I don't think we played the game the right way. We didn't defend well. We didn't manage the puck well. We didn't manage the game well. I think we have a much better defensive identity now. The players understand what's expected of them. They've bought into it so that's very important."
Hart is doing his part, but the Flyers could certainly help him out with some more run support. Philadelphia was actually outscored by the Canadiens 13-11 in the series.
Travis Konecny, Philadelphia's leading scorer in the regular season (61 points in 66 games), has produced just three assists in nine games in the bubble.
"Travis is one of those players who has another level I think he needs to get to," said Fletcher. "In terms of using his speed to create and getting more pucks to the net, I think he's getting better, but there's still another level he needs to get to. That line produced a lot of chances the last few games so I think they're starting to get going."
Fletcher pointed out that Konecny isn't the only Flyer who's been grounded offensively. Kevin Hayes has just one goal since the restart while Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and James van Riemsdyk have yet to bulge the twine.
Cooper has made it clear he doesn’t want to talk about the status of Steven Stamkos until he's available to play again, but that hasn’t stopped reporters from seeking out any morsel of information about the Lightning captain's condition.
"I'll just give the same exact answer I gave in the first round," said Cooper. "He's not available right now and, again, [he's] rehabbing and when he is going to be available I will let you know. There's no further updates and so it's pointless to keep asking about it."
Players and coaches have been asked constantly about life in the NHL bubbles and the mental strain associated with being away from home for an extended period of time. And while many, like Dallas coach Rick Bowness, have said it's very difficult, you won't hear anything like that from the New York Islanders.
"Well, I'm reading a lot of stuff, but our group is having fun," said coach Barry Trotz. "There's the odd time you miss your family and all that, but for the most part the guys understand and their wives understand that this is something you have to accept if you want to have success and there's got to be commitment on both sides. So, we understood that going in and I think the players are doing a good job of having fun and staying together and focusing on what needs to be focused on. This is a great opportunity for the teams that are left and the families and players understand that."
Trotz pointed out that the long road trip has helped newcomers like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Andy Greene build chemistry with their teammates.
Teams entered the bubble on July 26 and the Stanley Cup finalists won't leave until late September or early October.
"It seems like a long time, but if you really look at it in the big picture it’s not that long," said Trotz. "I think guys understand it’s unique, it’s an opportunity and they're embracing it and I think that's what you see with our group."
Marchand, meanwhile, is grateful that the top five teams in the Eastern Conference got to stay at Hotel X, which opened in 2018, from the start.
"The big thing is that we have a good situation here at our hotel," said Marchand. "We actually popped over to the other one, I can't imagine how those guys were at that other hotel there and I heard the same thing out West in Edmonton so we just got to enjoy the time we have here at Hotel X, because if you make it out to Edmonton the situation is going to get worse mentally."
Well, the Islanders have been at the Royal York, an older hotel, since Day 1. They are actually the only team of the seven lower seeds there to survive. On Saturday, they made the move to Hotel X.
"We've seen quite a few teams heading out so I mean we're happy to still be here," said Brock Nelson. "We got pretty comfortable at this hotel so maybe a little bittersweet. I'm sure it will be nice having a change of pace, change of scenery, but at the same time we've been here for a while and know what we can do and the set up and the walk to the rink so it will be different. But the fact we're still here playing is the big thing."
The NHL is doing its best to get players some outdoor time and keep them as comfortable as possible. The Lightning, for example, went on a golf outing Friday and the Bruins had that chance on Saturday.
Considering what’s happening in the world right now, Marchand stressed that he feels lucky to be in this situation even if it can be challenging at times.
"We've made a commitment to each other and the group to come here and we're all sacrificing to be here," said Marchand. "The drive is there to want to make it all worth it. You get on the ice and you want to win because otherwise this whole thing is for nothing. You know, there's no point in coming and being stuck in the bubble for this amount of time and potentially another couple weeks and another month if you're not going to win so I think that's going to drive you even more to want to win and to compete and sacrifice for each other."
Islanders winger Cal Clutterbuck, who missed Game 5 against the Capitals, was back on the ice at Saturday's practice.
"He got up and down the ice pretty good today," said Trotz. "I don't foresee anything going into the series that we have to be too concerned about."
Game 1 against the Flyers is set for Monday night.