After a disappointing first round exit in the 2019 NHL Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning have come back with a vengeance and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals after beating the Boston Bruins four games to one in a best of seven series. The Lightning have made the most of an unorthodox playoff situation due to COVID-19, as the designated NHL bubble in Toronto, Canada has forced them to be away from their families and their fans.
Despite fans not being allowed to attend in their home stadium of Amalie Arena, the team’s presence is still being felt as flags and banners are being hung around the city of Tampa as fans cheer from afar.
The Lightning entered the NHL bubble as the number three seed in the Eastern Conference. Tampa began the playoffs in the round robin seeding games which included the top four teams in the East. The Lightning went 2-1 in their three round robin games with their only loss being to a red hot Philadelphia Flyers team.
In the first round, the Lightning got a rematch with the Columbus Blue Jackets, who swept the Lightning in the 2019 NHL playoffs. Game one was a five-overtime marathon that lasted just under six hours as the Lightning came out victorious in the fifth overtime thanks to a goal from center Brayden Point.
“It was tiring for sure but it came to a point where we just started having fun,” said a fatigued Brayden Point in a postgame interview with NBC Sports. “During intermissions we just tried to get as much fluids in us as possible and keep going.”
This victory seemed to be a turning point for the Lightning as they won three out of the next four games. Closing out the series just how they started it, with an overtime goal by Brayden Point, getting revenge on the team who eliminated them just a year ago.
“We had 422 days to think about it but who’s counting,” said head coach John Cooper in a postgame interview. “We want to advance no matter who you’re playing. It just turned out we got a second chance and often times you don’t get that.”
The second round the Lightning played the defending Eastern Conference Champions and veteran savvy Boston Bruins. The physical and intimidating play of the Bruins never seemed to phase the Lightning as they easily took care of the Bruins in five games. The turning point of the series was the game three blowout as the Lightning scored seven goals on the Bruins.
Much like the first series, the Lightning clinched the series with a win in the second overtime as Victor Hedman scored the winning goal, propelling the Lightning into the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lightning are clicking on all cylinders thanks to outstanding play by their goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and the offensive firepower of Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point. Vasilevskiy is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and played at an elite level in the playoffs, stopping 147 of 157 shots by the Bruins.
The Lightning will play the number six seeded New York Islanders in the Eastern Conference Finals with a chance to go to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2015. The Islanders clinched their first conference finals appearance in 27 years after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-0 in the seventh game. The Lightning will begin the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday, Sept. 7.