Bruins Making Noise Behind Lightning In East Race

Tuesday, March 12, 2019 12:31 PM UTC

Tuesday, Mar. 12, 2019 12:31 PM UTC

The Tampa Bay Lightning remain clear favorites to win the NHL’s Eastern Conference, but maybe the scorching-hot Boston Bruins can make things interesting.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are going to win the Presidents’ Trophy for the first time in franchise history. That isn’t up for debate. The Bolts also remain the +125 Sports Interaction favorites to win the Eastern Conference for the third time in team history. It will be an upset if the Bolts also don’t win their second Stanley Cup – they are +230 there, and an Eastern Conference team is -136 to hoist the Cup with a West club at -102. At 28.6 percent, the Lightning have the most efficient power-play conversion rate in 36 years.

While the Bolts are a runaway train, they are going to come up short for two hallowed records. The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens, maybe the best team ever, set the mark for points in a season with 132 – and that was back when the regular was 80 games instead of 82. Tampa can’t break that. The Lightning aren’t officially eliminated from breaking the record of 62 victories by the 1995-96 Red Wings, but Tampa would essentially have to win out and there’s no reason for Coach Jon Cooper to keep the pedal to the metal. I presume he’ll start resting guys so they'll be at 100 percent health for the playoffs.

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The Boston Bruins may well be the second-best team in hockey, but they are stuck in the same Atlantic Division as Tampa Bay and thus would have to face the Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Of late, Boston has been playing even better than Tampa Bay.

On Sunday, the Bruins were 4-2 losers to Pittsburgh, which ended their 19-game streak of at least one point. It was the second-longest streak in team history (23 games in 1940-41). No. 2 netminder Jaroslav Halak was in net, so Tuukka Rask still has a personal points streak of 19 games in a row of his own. He’s 16-0-3 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in that span. Boston is now the +500 second-favorite to win the East, and it’s frankly not far the B’s and Lightning can’t meet in the conference finals.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals (+700) are coming on strong. They entered the week on a seven-game winning streak to take back the lead of the Metropolitan Division. It’s just the second season in team history that Washington has had multiple win streaks of seven games. The club also did from Nov. 16-30. The other streak was from Nov. 30-Dec. 12, 1992 and Feb. 9-23, 1993.

When the Caps won their first Stanley Cup title last season, their roster included 11 players with double-digit goal totals during the regular season. This year’s team has 10. Matt Niskanen (eight) is the closest to the double-digit level now who could join that group by season’s end.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are +600 to win the East and Pittsburgh Penguins +1200. No team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be counted out, and Matt Murray is rounding back into form in net. Malkin, incidentally, is two points from 1,000 in the NHL. A total of 87 players have reached 1,000. Toronto's plus-47 goal differential is second-best in the NHL, trailing only the Lightning (plus-89). The Leafs did fail a big home test Monday vs. Tampa, though, getting routed 6-2.

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