The Bruins are battle-tested enough that it isn't often you'll pick them to lose a series without a second thought.
For whatever hot goalie, troublesome line or great record an opponent may have, Boston has often found solutions over the years.
(Sure, the solution was usually just "Zdeno Chara," but still.)
Here we are, though. On Sunday, the Bruins will begin the second round against a Lightning team that should beat them. Tampa is better offensively and, now that Tuukka Rask is back home, has a clear edge in goal with reigning Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Plus, they took three of four regular-season meetings and the round-robin matchup.
Get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App
I'm picking the Lightning to win the series, knowing two things:
1. I won't be alone. Tampa will be a popular pick, as many consider them the Cup favorite.
2. The Bruins were also clear-cut underdogs against a loaded team in the 2013 Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins. Nobody gave the Bruins much of a shot, and they held Pittsburgh to freaking two goals over the course of a sweep.
There's a lot of reasons to pick Tampa. Better roster, questions about David Pastrnak's health, the fact that it's a weird year, so the team that always disappoints winning would actually make sense for some reason, etc.
But I'll just go with what I've said all along: Tampa's group on D is closer to Boston's than Boston's forwards are to Tampa's. Plus, I don't write the Lightning off as chokers because of how they embarrassed themselves in the first round last year. Maybe they are, but they at least exorcised that first-round demon by beating the Blue Jackets this year.
Also, teams that embarrass themselves have found ways to turn it into fuel for the next year. The Bruins won the Cup a year after their 3-0 series lead/3-0 Game 7 lead vs. Philly debacle.
The Bruins will need Jaroslav Halak to be great to stay alive. If he plays the way he did in Game 4 (or, to a degree, Game 3) of the Carolina series, Boston won't have a chance. If he finds another gear and gives Boston the type of play they've gotten from Tuukka Rask, who's top 10 in career postseason save percentage, they could be in business.
But remember, the Bruins have played Tampa in the postseason with Rask and lost. Why? Because of the discrepancy on offense. Two years ago, Patrice Bergeron's line toyed with Tampa in Game 1 as Boston took the series lead. Then Brayden Point decided the fun was over, dominated the Bergeron line and that was that. You can't beat Tampa if you only have one or two things going. You need more.
And I've never been sure that the 2019-20 Bruins have been more than one amazing line/power play, a strong defense and great (now good) goaltending. Those are all tremendous qualities to have, which is why the Bruins are one of the best teams in the league. They're just about to face a better one.
I don't love Boston's wings after the top line, but Tampa's are great. Look at the middle sixes for both teams and tell me Tampa doesn't get your checkmark.
While David Krejci's stellar play should inspire confidence in Boston's second line, check out Tampa's second trio of Anthony Cirelli between Alex Killorn (26 goals) and Tyler Johnson (a year removed from 29 goals). If Steven Stamkos returns at any point, he'll bolster a top six that's led by Point and Kucherov.
Boston's third line remains a work in progress. Sean Kuraly is an excellent fourth-liner being asked to play third-line left wing. Jack Studnicka is an exciting young player, but still a rookie. Tampa, who loaded up at the trade deadline, has Yanni Gourde centering Barclay Goodrow and 20-goal-scorer Blake Coleman.
Give me Bruce Cassidy over Jon Cooper, but I'll take Cooper's roster, which also includes the best defenseman in this series in Victor Hedman. The Bruins will make it a series -- let's say six games.
Can the Bruins win? Of course. I can still remember Brad Marchand after Game 4 of that 2013 Penguins series saying that nobody gave them a chance, and I can envision him saying it again via a Zoom press conference in a week or so.
Still, much like a quarterback with only two offers in free agency, I'm picking Tampa.
Why I'm picking Lightning to beat Bruins in second round originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston