Whether or not you agree that the Bruins got the short-end of the stick when the league decided on a 24-team playoff, which will probably include a round robin between the top-4 teams in each conference to (on some level) determine seeding, it really doesn’t matter at this point.
It appears the Bruins, who almost certainly would have finished as the Eastern Conference regular season champions, will have to fight it out with the Flyers, Capitals and Lightning for the #1 seed going into the playoffs.
Fair or unfair, the B’s certainly will be tested during these games, as the all three foes present distinct challenges.
Up until mid-February, the 2019-2020 Flyers season could be best described as “inconsistent.”
Whenever it looked like the Flyers were going to really get the ball rolling by winning 3 or 4 games in a row, they’d quickly follow up a winning streak with a losing streak.
Just before the league suspended its play, however, something seemed to click in Philadelphia: they won 9 games in a row, before dropping their last game to Boston, 2-0 on March 10.
The Flyers’ offense exploded for 39 goals over their win streak, while surrendering just 17 goals to opponents.
With this recent history, the Bruins have to wonder which Philadelphia Flyers team will show up to the round robin when hockey resumes: the one that was wildly inconsistent for the majority of the year or the one that looked unbeatable late in the season?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter, as the Flyers have consistently been a thorn in the Bruins’ side for a few years now. During the 2019-2020 season the Bruins were 1-1-1 against the Flyers, included an embarrassing shootout loss that saw the Bruins blow a 5-2 lead.
The year before the Bruins were 1-1-0 against the Orange and Black.
The Flyers, led by sophomore wonder Travis Konecny, are surprisingly deep, with nine players on their roster scoring at least 10 goals this season, including four with 20+ (not including perennial 20-goal-scorer James van Riemsdyk, who ended with 19 goals).
But what should really scare teams about the Flyers is that they seem to have found consistently good goaltending in Carter Hart, something that has been missing from the Flyers since Ron Hextall left in the 1980s.
No team has dominated the Bruins over the last decade quite like the Washington Capitals.
It all began in the 1st round of the 2011-2012 season, when the favored Boston Bruins lost to the Capitals in 7 games, with some relatively unknown goalie named Braden Holtby in net.
To say the Capitals have had the B’s number since then would be an understatement. The Caps are 19-5 against the Bruins since that series ended, including a 12-game winning streak between 2014-2018.
If there is any hope for the Bruins against the Capitals in the round robin, and potentially in a later playoff match-up, it’s the Bruins’ 7-3 victory when these two teams last met.
The Bruins were finally able to crack Holtby, and chased him mid-way through the game.
One area of the game that will be very interesting to watch when these teams face-off is team physicality. Many Bruins fans have argued that the B’s are not big enough, strong enough, or mean enough to play with the Caps, especially in a 7-game series.
The Bruins did add Nick Ritchie at the deadline, but will it be enough?
When the NHL was suspended, the Capitals sat in 1st place in the Metro Division, led by Norris Trophy favorite John Carlson and, of course, goal-scoring phenom Alex Ovechkin.
The Caps, who came out of the gate like they were shot out of a cannon in the first half of the season, did struggle over the last couple months, only winning 6 of their final 17 games.
However, after a very disappointing finish to the season before, you can expect the Ovechkin and the Caps will be fired up when hockey commences.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The last piece of the round robin puzzle is another team that has seemed to get the best of the Bruins lately: the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Including the 2018 playoff loss to the Bolts, the Bruins are 6-11 against the Lightning over the last three years.
The Lightning’s incredibly talented forward group, rock-steady defense, and stout goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy have given the Bruins and their fans nightmares. The Lightning have also proven themselves to be just as physical as the Bruins, as the last match-up on March 7 clearly showed.
As for the Lightning’s season, much was expected for them after a shocking playoff upset the season before. However, to the surprise of many, they started off the season extremely slowly.
In fact, at the Christmas break, the Bolts found themselves out of the playoff picture with a very ho-hum record of 18-13-4.
But that was when things changed big time for Tampa Bay. The Lightning would go on to win the next 10 games in row, and then a month later they’d better that streak by winning 11 in a row from January 29th to February 17.
The other scary thing about the Lightning is they should be fully healthy when hockey returns as well. Steven Stamkos, who was slated to miss 6-8 weeks after surgery, should be good to go, as will Victor Hedman, who has reportedly had been battling with injuries most of the season.
According to Vegas odds makers, the Bruins and the Lightning are currently Stanley Cup favorites, with each having 13/2 odds of winning (+700).
While the reviews of the teams above present fairly accurate descriptions of what the Bruins will be up against based on the regular season, in reality, there is no telling how such a long break will affect what happens in this round robin or the 24-team playoff.
For every team hoping to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup, a fast start will be essential. Players will have to shake off the rust extremely quickly, or their return to hockey may be short lived.
In the Bruins’ case, they do have very tough match-ups to start, but perhaps that’s exactly what you’d want them to face before the first round of the playoff starts.
As a Bruins fan, you have to hope that these games simulate the desperate hockey that teams are accustomed to in late March/early April, thus getting them ready for the madness that is the Stanley Cup playoffs.