The Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins have each hurdled difficult mental and physical obstacles in the first two rounds. Now they stand together at the door to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Lightning came from three games to one down to defeat Pittsburgh and the Bruins lost the first two at home before beating Montreal in the first round. Tampa Bay eliminated top-seeded Washington in four straight and Boston, after losing a three games to none lead in the conference semifinals a year ago to Philadelphia, swept away the Flyers this time around.
“They understand more what it takes to win,” said Lightning wing Simon Gagne, who helped the Flyers come back on the Bruins last year. “They’re on a mission. They’ve got some new guys and they play a lot better as a team.”
The Lightning is a different team since the playoffs started, winning seven straight games by outscoring the Pens and Caps 29-14.
“Our poise has gotten better through the playoffs,” Lightning wing Marty St. Louis said. “You have to learn and mature pretty quick and we’ve done that.”
The Bruins won three of the four regular-season meetings. Each had a solid home win. The other two were tight one-goal games won late. Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson did not play in any of the four games.
But history means nothing now. It’s about two hungry teams trying to find a way to unlock the secrets to victory.
Both teams have gotten contributions from many different players. Ten players for the Lightning and 11 for the Bruins have at least five points in the playoffs; four each have 10 points or more. St. Louis leads the Lightning with 13 points (six goals, seven assists), but Vinny Lecavalier (5-7-12), Steve Downie (2-10-12 and +9) and Teddy Purcell (1-10-11) are close behind. Sean Bergenheim has seven goals. The line of Downie, Bergenheim and Dominic Moore (eight points) has been a key trio. “They have been tremendous,” St. Louis said. “When they’re on the ice, they’re dominating and that’s tiring physically and mentally for the other team.” Steven Stamkos also has four goals and two assists, Ryan Malone three and two and Gagne (2-5-7) is expected back after missing the last three games with an injury. Eric Brewer leads the Lightning defense with a goal and five assists. Boston only had one player with more than 26 goals in the regular season and team leaders Milan Lucic (30 goals) and David Krejci had 62 points each, but the Bruins finished the season fifth in offense at 2.98 goals per game. The Lightning were seventh (2.94). Patrice Bergeron leads Boston in the playoffs with 12 points, but talented two-way center’s status for the series is unknown after he suffered a concussion in the last game of the semifinal series. Grinder Brad Marchand is next with 11 points, while Krejci and Horton have 10 each. Horton has always performed well against the Lightning back to his days with the Florida Panthers, but did not score a goal in four games this season.
The Bruins and Lightning lead all playoff teams, allowing an average 2.18 goals in 11 games. The two guys between the pipes have done some heavy lifting, but both groups of defensemen have come up big. Brewer has 43 blocks to lead everyone in the playoffs, with teammates Mattias Ohlund (36), Brett Clark (31) and Victor Hedman (31) are next. Brewer also has 32 hits and is averaging a team-high 26:09. Hedman and Ohlund (+6) have also been standouts, playing big minutes. Dennis Seidenberg and 6 foot 9 all-star Zdeno Chara are both playing more than 28 minutes per game for the Bruins. Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference are also over 21 minutes per game each. “They have a real good defensive corps,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “They’ve been consistent throughout the season.” Seidenberg has six points in the playoffs to lead the Bruins defense, which is still waiting for contributions from Tomas Kaberle (three assists in 11 games). The Lightning could be without injured Pavel Kubina, who has not practiced since Game 1 against Washington when he was hit into the boards by Jason Chimera. The Bruins are expected to get Adam McQuaid back from a neck injury.
Their ages are high and their goals against are low. Roloson, 41, and Tim Thomas, 37, have both put on a show in the postseason. The two veterans have been the best two goalies in the playoffs. Roloson has a 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage and Thomas, a college teammate of St. Louis at Vermont, is close behind at 2.03 and .937. Roloson has faced a playoff-high 389 shots and Thomas 378. Roloson is now 20-8 in his last two playoff runs and has a lifetime playoff save percentage of .923 in 41 games. Thomas has a .931 SP in 29 playoff games. Boucher compared Roloson to Thomas when the Lightning acquired him. They are both competitors, fighters. “They’re definitely not playing to their ages,” Stamkos said. “They are both bringing that intensity. They are two of the most competitive goalies in the game and it’s no coincidence they are battling it out to make the Stanley Cup finals.” Thomas is a finalist for his second Vezina Trophy in three years. He led the league during the regular season in GAA (2.00) and SP (.938).
One of the big reasons the Lightning has reached the final four is their work on special teams. Tampa Bay has 12 power-play goals in the playoffs, more than any other team. The Lightning has killed 51 of 54 (94.4 percent), tops among teams who played two rounds of the postseason. Seven different players have a power-play goal for the Lightning, led by St. Louis (3). The Bruins were in the middle of the pack on special teams in the regular season (20th on PP, 16th on PK) and have struggled in the postseason. Boston went nine games without a power-play goal in the playoffs before converting one each in the last two games – one on a 5-on-3. The Bruins have given up eight power-play goals in 41 attempts (80.5).