TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay hasn’t played in a week, while Boston is coming off a hard-fought, seven-game playoff series.

Neither the Lightning nor the less-rested Bruins expect that to mean anything when their second-round playoff series begins Saturday.

A single point separated the Atlantic Division rivals in the standings after the race for the top seed in Eastern Conference came down to the final night of the regular season, and there’s every reason to believe this best-of-seven matchup will be just as tight.

“Obviously, these were the top two teams in the division, and it was a close call until the last game on who was going to finish first and second,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup. They are great team, so are we. It’s going to come down to the small detail in the game. We have the skill and depth up front to score goals, but we have to keep the puck out of our net.”

Boston won 3 of 4 meetings between the teams the regular season.

The Bruins won their opening round playoff series against Toronto in seven games. Tampa Bay, led by Nikita Kucherov’s 10 points (five goals, five assists) eliminated New Jersey in five games after going 0-3-1 against the Devils.

“I think you learn that the regular season means nothing,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We know how they play. Very competitive group, very well structured, especially that top line. … We’re expecting a very tight series against a very good hockey team.”

The Bruins are bracing for a tough test, too.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “They were a top team all year. They compete very hard, have a ton of skill, and they have a lot of depth.”

Marchand will do whatever it takes to get under the skin of his opponents, and in the first round that meant skating up to Toronto forward Leo Komarov and appearing to lick his face. (In November, he appeared to kiss Komarov on the cheek.)

“I thought he wanted to cuddle. I just wanted to get close to him,” Marchand explained after the playoff game. “He keeps trying to get close to me. I don’t know if he’s got a thing for me or what. He’s cute.”

Several news organizations reported this week that the NHL sent a message to Marchand to knock it off, but he said he has received no such message. “This is false,” he tweeted in response to a Boston Globe story that picked up on the original report, from Sportsnet.

FRIDAY NIGHT’S GAME

JETS 4, PREDATORS 1: Mark Scheifele scored two goals and Blake Wheeler added two assists as visiting Winnipeg won the opener in the Western Conference semifinal series.

Brandon Tanev and Paul Stastny also scored for the Jets. Kevin Fiala scored for Nashville.

NOTES

HART TROPHY: New Jersey left wing Taylor Hall, Los Angeles center Anze Kopitar and Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon are the finalists for the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player.

The winner will be announced June 20 at the NHL Awards shows in Las Vegas.

SHARKS: Forward Evander Kane was suspended for Game 2 against Vegas because of a cross-check to the head of Pierre-Edouard Bellemare in the opener, won by Vegas 7-0 Thursday night.

CANADIENS: Canadian world junior championship coach Dominique Ducharme has made the jump to the NHL as an assistant with Montreal.

The Canadiens dropped assistant coaches Jean-Jacques Daigneault and Dan Lacroix and hired Ducharme away from the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The club also gave a contract extension to goaltending coach Stephane Waite, who has been with the team for five years.

OILERS: Todd McLellan will return as coach without assistants Ian Herbers and Jim Johnson, who were relieved of their duties.

FLAMES: Brian Burke is stepping down as the president of hockey operations.

The team said Burke will leave May 1, ending a nearly five-year run with the organization.

General Manager Brad Treliving will direct the hockey operations side along with vice president of hockey operations Don Maloney and assistant general managers Craig Conroy and Brad Pascall.


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