The Eastern Conference Finals get under way between Boston and Tampa Bay this week and it will be extra special for several players from each team.
A bevy of Bruins and Lightning players, including Tim Thomas, Dwayne Roloson, Martin St. Louis, Dominic Moore, Mike Lundin and Teddy Purcell, all share common roots that grow all the way back to Boston, New England and the TD Garden.
"Actually," said Thomas, the Bruins' starting goalie, "Dwayne Roloson had an impact on my life. When I was recruited to go to college, it was originally just Michigan Tech and UMass-Lowell. Vermont came in late. Dwayne Roloson was returning (to UML) as a senior and was an All-American as a junior. Coach (Bruce) Crowder was up front with me and told me I could red-shirt or maybe play two or three games. So I decided not to go to UMass-Lowell because of Dwayne Roloson, which of course over all these years changes how everything worked out."
"Yeah? I didn't know all that," said Tampa Bay's Roloson a few months back during an interview with NHL.com about that connection. "I'm glad it worked out for both of us."
"I don't believe I've ever had a conversation with Dwayne," said Thomas following the Bruins' practice Monday. "I was around him the lockout year (2004-05) when we both played in Finland. Not sure if we played in a playoff series against each other."
At 37 and 41, respectively, things have worked out quite nicely for Thomas and Roloson. There's no doubt that the impact each has in this playoff series will ultimately decide who leads his team to the Stanley Cup Final.
The numbers back it up. Thomas' 2.03 goals-against average and .937 save percentage barely trail Roloson's 2.01 and .941. Each has played all 11 games this postseason.
"The reason he's been so successful all these years," Thomas said of Roloson, "is he's been able to adapt his game to the way the NHL game has developed. I'm a guy along those similar lines. I respect that about him; he learned technique at a later age, like I did."
"You need to stick with it," Roloson told NHL.com about the keys to his longevity. "Working on it. My old goalie coach, Rollie Melanson, would say: 'You do something a thousand times, you'll be good at it; you do it 10,000 times, you'll be great at it.' I just constantly work on repetition, repetition, repetition to get better."
Age is also not a limiting factor for 36-year-old Martin St. Louis, who helped lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup in 2004.
He and Thomas also took the University of Vermont on a memorable four-year ride (1993-97), ending with school records that still stand, including St. Louis' school-record 267 points.
St. Louis' 13 points in 11 playoff games leads his team this time around.
I want to win another Cup," St. Louis told NHL.com during the regular season. "That's what’s next. Sometimes it's not the most talented team that wins; it's the best team. When we won the Cup in '04, it was kind of like that. We didn't have a lot of superstars; we had a lot of good players and played well as a team. That's what wins championships."
So, has Thomas been in touch with his old Vermont running buddy yet?
"No message to him yet," said Thomas Monday about getting in touch with St. Louis. "I thought about it Friday (after Boston finished its semifinal series with Philadelphia), about when it would be a good time. So far, no action either way. We're both busy with our own lives but also getting ready to play each other. Possibly, it might not come (until the post-series handshakes), but I might send him a quick text beforehand. It won't be a long conversation, more a private text. We've played against each other over the years, but never in this type of playoff setting. It definitely will be different. We both know the energy it takes to accomplish these sorts of things. It was pretty awesome to watch him back when he won the Cup and on TV these past years.
"Now I'm able to join the party so to speak and to compete against him, it's good for both of us and our alma mater."
It’s also good for Moore, Lundin and Purcell.
Moore starred at Harvard for four years, and captained the Crimson in 2002-03, his senior year, and played each February during his tenure in the Beanpot Tournament at TD Garden.
After stops with seven teams before landing in Tampa Bay, he's now as close as ever to having his name engraved on the Stanley Cup.
"Since I was a kid," he told NHL.com a few weeks ago, "I always dreamed and believed I'd make it to the NHL. Never thought otherwise. Any kid playing street hockey's dream is playing Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final. That dream is still very much my focus. Someday, I'd like to pull that off."
So would Lundin and Purcell, whose NCAA careers at Maine brought both to the TD Garden ice in Hockey East Tournament action, and Lundin to the 1-0 national-championship game loss to Denver in 2004, his freshman season.
The 2006-07 season was the only one Lundin -- then a senior -- and Purcell --then a freshman -- were teammates. Purcell had 43 points in 40 games to earn Hockey East's rookie of the year award and then signed with the Los Angeles Kings.
Purcell was traded to Tampa Bay for Jeff Halpern on the eve of the 2010 trade deadline.
While Lundin has chipped in on the Lightning blue line with 2 playoff assists, Purcell's 11 points are a fourth-best on the roster.
"There is something to the fact that earlier in your career, you think you're going to get so many chances that you might not realize how much you need to take advantage of the opportunities you actually have," said Thomas. "When you get older you appreciate more these opportunities that don’t come easy."
When Roloson was traded to Tampa Bay by the Islanders on Jan. 1, he said: "It's a lot of fun to play large in the playoffs. It's something I want to be a part of again, whether playing or sitting on the bench. Playing in the playoffs is the best thing about playing in the NHL."
He and Thomas are playing large so far in these 2011 playoffs. Now, they have even more New England company for the Eastern Conference Finals.