The Tampa Bay Lightning took the league by storm in the first half of the season, but the Bruins have clawed their way to just four points back of the Atlantic Division lead. Just as it’s been all season, it looks like the Bruins and Lightning will finish with the top two seeds. Who comes in first is still up for grabs. They’re both powerhouse teams and the numbers leave plenty of room for debate over who’s more dominant.
Both teams share a similar goal differential, with the Lightning at +58 and the Bruins at +56. But the numbers adding up to these are drastically different. As usual, the Bruins have been a solid defensive team, allowing just 177 goals. This is the second lowest in the league behind only Nashville, who has given up 172. Defense has been a consistent strength for the B’s over the last several years and this time the scoring is right on par. They’re currently sitting at sixth in the league in goals for.
It looks like the Bruins are about to finish in the top 10 of the two most important categories. Their special teams have been solid as well, also cracking the top ten in both power play and penalty kill. They’ve converted on 22.3% of power play opportunities, while posting the third best penalty kill in the league at 82%. This is huge considering how chippy playoff games can be, and surely adds to the team’s confidence.
Tampa Bay by the Numbers
Although that all sounds promising, the Lightning are still the top offensive team in the league. They’ve been responsible for 254 circulating red lights this season, mainly thanks to Kucherov, Stamkos, Gourde and Point. These four players alone account for 44% of the teams scoring. Their power play ranks second in the league at 24%, but their penalty kill is among the worst in the league. They’ve only managed to kill off 76.8% of penalties this season, the second lowest out of any playoff-bound team.
Tampa is less of a force on the defensive side but still can’t be overlooked. Victor Hedman is having another unbelievable year with 52 points and a +26 rating, while Mikhail Sergachev has enjoyed a stellar rookie season. The recent acquisition of Ryan McDonagh is huge, too. He’s a great two-way defenseman and eats up 23 minutes a night. Vasilevski got off to a hot start but he’s had his recent struggles. He currently has .922 save percentage to go with a GAA of 2.53. These are solid numbers, but neither stat cracks the league’s top 10. He’s good, but beatable. The real challenge is dealing with Tampa’s star players up front.
Bruins vs. Lightning
These two teams lead the Atlantic, but you can make a case that either one of them is the best team in the entire league. The main take away from their stats is that Tampa relies more on the offense while the bruins are more balanced. This makes the Lightning extremely susceptible to hitting a wall in the playoffs and puts a lot of pressure on Stamkos and Kucherov. They’ve been great all year, but slumps are inevitable. With a mediocre defense, these guys need to stay on top of their game. The Bruins’ versatility allows for a bit more breathing room. Whether it’s Marchand putting up four points, Tuukka pitching a shutout, or the penalty kill going 7/7, the B’s always seem to find a way to win. They can beat any team, on any night, in any way.
Who the better team is remains up for debate. They’re currently at second and third in the league-wide standings, with Tampa at 102 points and the Bruins with 99. Time will tell if the Bruins can catch them in the standings, but they won the season series. They’ll play them once more in Tampa on April 3rd, but the B’s won the first two meetings by scores of 3-2 and 3-0. With all things considered, I might have to give the edge to the Bruins. It’s almost too close to call, but Tampa’s 76.8% penalty kill draws a huge red flag. They might have the edge in scoring, but that’s atrocious.
The Bruins have also remained steady since December while the Lightning got off to a hot start and cooled down from there. They won 16 of their first 20 games, but the Bruins have been more consistent down the stretch. I didn’t think I’d say this in October, but the Bruins very well may be the best team in the Atlantic.
Cover image courtesy of The Tampa Bay Times.