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Lightning use scoring depth, even-strength play to advance

Limit top line of Boston to reach conference final for third time in four seasons

by Corey Long / Correspondent

The Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

The Lightning outscored the Boston Bruins 15-7 in the final four games of their second-round series and clinched the best-of-7 series with a 3-1 win in Game 5 at Amalie Arena on Sunday.


[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Bruins series coverage]


Tampa Bay will have home-ice advantage against the winner of the Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins series, which the Capitals lead 3-2. Game 6 is Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS, SN).

Here are 5 reasons the Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference Final:


1. Even-strength dominance

The Lightning held the Bruins without a goal in 5-on-5 play for the final three games of the series (187:20) scoring eight goals at even strength in those games. The Bruins were good on special teams (five power-play goals, one shorthanded goal) in the series, but the Lightning found the space during even-strength play to sustain long possessions in the offensive zone and create more scoring chances.

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Lightning move to Conference Final

"It's a four-line effort," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You have to have depth. You have to have it. It's the way everybody bought into their roles and contributed. [Cedric] Paquette, [Ryan] Callahan and [Chris] Kunitz were phenomenal in the series. [Anthony] Cirelli's line, their forechecking and hemming teams in. They might not have scored every night but they sure had a lot of [offensive] zone possession time." 


2. Slowing down Bergeron line

Boston's top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak combined for 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in the Bruins' 6-2 win in Game 1 but scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in the final four games. 

Tampa Bay used its best two-way line of Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson against the Bergeron line. Point was minus-5 in Game 1 but finished the series with seven points (three goals, four assists) and at plus-2.


3. Scoring depth

The Lighting scored 17 goals in the series with 11 players scoring at least once. Point had seven points, and Palat (three goals, one assist) and Yanni Gourde (one goal, three assists) each had four points. Defenseman Dan Girardi scored two goals, including in overtime of Game 4, and center Anthony Cirelli scored his first NHL playoff goal to provide secondary scoring.

Video: TBL@BOS, Gm3: Cirelli chips home his own rebound

The top line of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Miller did not score in the first two games but combined for nine points (four goals, five assists) in the final three.

Kucherov had a power-play goal in the first period, and Stamkos had the game-tying goal in the third period in Game 4. Miller scored the game-winning goal in Game 5 on a power play with Kucherov and Stamkos getting assists.

"The [Steven Stamkos] line, everybody asked, 'Why didn't they have two or three points a night?'" Cooper said. "You know what they did? They didn't get scored on and when we needed them they came up huge for us, and even today, we need that power-play goal to give us the lead. They got it for us."


4. Vasilevskiy stays tough

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed five goals on 23 shots in Game 1 but had a .936 save percentage in the final four games (102 saves on 109 shots) and capped the series with 27 saves on 28 shots in Game 5.

Vasilevskiy, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, is 8-2 with a 2.20 goals-against-average and .927 save percentage.

Video: BOS@TBL, Gm5: Vasilevskiy denies Pastrnak in front


5. Extended rest

Tampa Bay won its first-round series against the New Jersey Devils in five games and had a six-day layoff before the second round started. The rust showed in a 6-2 loss in Game 1, but over the final four games, Tampa Bay was the faster, fresher team and Boston began to slow down, possibly feeling the effects of their seven-game, first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

By winning their second-round series in five games, the Lightning will have another extended break before hosting Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Video: The crew reacts to Tampa Bay's series win over Boston

"That's really big, having been in the playoffs before and having gone seven, or six and seven, it wears on you, it wears on your body," Callahan said. "So I think it's huge to be able to get this rest.

"We said it before the game. We had the chance to do it against [New Jersey] and had a chance at home against these guys to do it; you have to take care of these opportunities. Now in to the next round, this pays off."



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