Stunning upset of Lightning leaves wide open East for Bruins or Leafs


TORONTO – The Maple Leafs and Bruins are locked in their own first-round playoff series right now, so that’s going to take full and top priority.

Still, there also has to be some private acknowledgment that the door is wide open to advance far into the Eastern Conference playoff bracket now that the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning have been eliminated in a stunning playoff upset.

The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning were the first team eliminated after the Columbus Blue Jackets completed the sweep with a 7-3 victory at Nationwide Arena in Columbus on Tuesday night. It's also the first playoff series win for the Blue Jackets in their 19-year franchise history. 

The perennial powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins followed suit Tuesday, getting swept in their first-round series by the New York Islanders and further opening up the Eastern Conference bracket. 

Clearly, the Blue Jackets would be a tough opponent in the second round for whichever team advances from the Bruins-Maple Leafs series, but they seem like a far beatable opponent matchup-wise and one who might have unloaded their tank in the emotional sweep of No. 1 seed Tampa Bay.

Certainly, the Bruins know they’ve got their own concerns at this point down 2-1 in their best-of-seven series with a Game 4 Wednesday night in Toronto, but they’re also confident it’s going to bring the best out of them.

“We’ve found ways pretty much all year, so it comes down to that,” said Patrice Bergeron. “You’ll face adversity. It’s just the way it is. That’s what hockey is all about. You have to thrive on it. You try to make the adjustments that are necessary, and I talk about that as a team.”

There’s also plenty more for the Bruins to play for now knowing they could enjoy home-ice advantage throughout the rest of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not only that, but there’s a legitimate pathway to the Eastern Conference Final, if not the Cup Final, right there if the Black and Gold can find a way to get past a newly battle-hardened Leafs giving them a challenge right now.

It would be a real shame if the B’s fumble away a golden opportunity after wondering all season how they’d managed to push past a juggernaut Lightning team that’s now shockingly one-and-done this postseason. Now, the Bolts are gone, and the coast feels much more clear for the Bruins or the Maple Leafs depending on which team advances in the Atlantic Division dogfight now playing out between the two rivals.  

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