Surging squads meet in Eastern Conference Finals
Saturday, 05.14.2011 / 8:00 PM
Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing EditorLIGHTNING at BRUINS
TV: VERSUS (HD), CBC (HD), RDS (HD)
: These teams met four times in the regular season and Boston won three of those meetings. Aside from an 8-1 blowout by Boston in an early December game, the games have been close. Tampa Bay won the first meeting, 3-1, with three second-period goals. Nearly a month after the blowout, Boston took a 4-3 decision just two days before the Lightning acquired goalie Dwayne Roloson
in a trade. Finally, on April 3, Boston took a 2-1 decision.
Both teams have had more than a week off since shocking their second-round opponents. The Lightning finished their sweep of the top-seeded Washington Capitals this past Thursday. One night later, the Bruins knocked off the second-seeded Philadelphia Flyers in two games.
Neither team believes the long layoff will be much of a factor because both teams will have to start over from scratch in this round. They argue it might be different if one team was coming in off a long series and already in top form, much like Carolina did three years ago when it beat New Jersey in a Game 7 and then immediately came to Boston and walloped the idle Bruins in Game 1.
"It's awkward to have a week off when you are playing in the playoffs," Boston goalie Tim Thomas
said. "A part of you certainly wants to just keep going. It helped knowing that Tampa was actually in the same exact situation so everything is going to be equal starting tomorrow.
"We've had other series where, for example Carolina a few years ago, Carolina came off a long series while we had been sitting and waiting. We started the next series and they were in full playoff mode. It took us a while to catch up."
Tampa Bay has ripped off seven-straight wins, knocking off the fourth-seeded Penguins in the first round and the top-seeded Capitals in a stunning sweep in the second round. In those seven games, the Lightning have put up 29 goals, displaying an offense that goes three lines deep and is hitting on all cylinders. They've even been good in their losses. In three defeats, their opponents' combined margin of victory is just five goals.
"They're not here by accident," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "They are here because they belong here. When you get this far in the playoffs, teams that are here are not underdogs.
"We understand we are facing a team with a lot of confidence right now, seems to have a lot of depth with scoring and is playing well. We have to be ready to face that."
Not only are the Lightning clicking offensively -- 14 players have a goal and 18 players have a point -- but they haven’t been too shabby on defense either, allowing just 15 goals in the seven-game win streak.
After a slow start to the postseason -- back-to-back home losses to the Montreal Canadiens, Boston has won eight of its last nine outings, including four straight at home.
Like the Lightning, the Bruins have shown incredible depth this postseason. Fifteen different players have scored at least one goal and 18 players have at least a point.
But these Bruins will look slightly different than the team that played in the first two rounds. Patrice Bergeron
, the team's top scorer with 12 points, is out with a concussion. So now Chris Kelly
is the No. 2 center and Tyler Seguin
, who has yet to play in a postseason game, will take over on the third line.
Boston has also gotten a good deal of its offense from the blue line, though, getting 6 goals and 18 assists from defensemen. Dennis Seidenberg
leads the charge with 6 points.
Finally, Thomas has been an anchor at the back. In the final three games of the Philadelphia series, he allowed just five goals. In one span bridging the overtime victory in Game 2 and a 5-1 decision in Game 3 that completely changed the complexion of the series, Thomas stopped 76 straight shots from the Flyers.
"His numbers don’t lie, he is a great goalie," Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson
said of Thomas. "He's the reason the Bruins are where they are. He's one of those guys that will never quit on a puck. For us to beat him, it's going to be a challenge."
Sean Bergenheim is having a postseason to remember. After scoring just 14 goals in the regular season, he has 7 goals in 11 postseason games, including five in the past six games. … For Boston, Nathan Horton
is almost as hot. The first-line power forward has 5 goals and 10 points in 11 games. … Both goalies, meanwhile, are incredibly hot. Roloson is No. 1 in both goals-against average (2.01) and save percentage (.941), but Thomas is nipping at his heels with a 2.03 GAA and .937 save percentage.
Boston suffered a big blow in the last round when Bergeron suffered a concussion in Game 4 against Philadelphia. He is not expected to play in Game 1.
"I think he is improving, he really is improving," Julien said Friday. "We're optimistic about him. As (GM) Peter (ChiarellI) said, we knew he was going to miss the start of the series and how much he is going to miss, I can't tell you right now. But he is on the right track and we are staying positive."
Boston will get back defenseman Adam McQuaid
, who missed the final two games of the second-round series with a neck injury. Depth defenseman Steve Kampfer is also rounding back into form, although he is not ready yet.
For Tampa Bay, Simon Gagne is expected back after missing the final three games of the Washington series after hitting his head on the ice in Game 1.
"It was hard, but the good thing at the same time, for myself, was the team winning four games," Gagne said. "It gave me a chance to get a good break and make sure everything is OK and be able to play that first game against Boston."
Defenseman Pavel Kubina
, who also has an upper-body injury, will miss Game 1, but the Lightning believe he will be ready to return at some point in this series.
Boston's power-play has shown a slight revival in the final two games of the Philadelphia series, scoring a 5-on-3 goal in Game 3 and a 5-on-4 goal in Game 4, but is still an abysmal 2-for-37 for the playoffs and now faces the most effective kill left in the postseason. Tampa Bay, on the other hand is 12-for-45 on the power play. … The Lightning have blocked a playoff-best 233 shots, including 43 by defenseman Eric Brewer
. … Tampa Bay's three faceoff men all hover around 50 percent and should provide a far more stern challenge for the Bruins, who dominated the faceoff circle against Philadelphia. Boston is further challenged in this area because of the absence of Bergeron, who has won 163 of the 254 draws he has taken this postseason, a 64 percent conversion rate.
"Everyone is hungry to go. I don't think we have been away long enough to get out of rhythm. We've still been practicing very hard. Guys are staying focused and staying ready. We're working hard, practicing hard, but the biggest thing is when you are off this long is you have to stay mentally ready, mentally focused and don't get off track." -- Boston forward Brad Marchand