Friday, May 13, 2011
Thankfully, the Wings and Sharks prolonged their series, which at one point looked like it would be the third sweep of the second round. Not only does this add some drama and suspense to the second round, but I was away for a week and unable to post a conference final breakdown. Let’s first break down the Eastern Conference Final and tomorrow we’ll set up the Western Conference Final.
The Bruins have a deep and versatile group of forwards, which is good because they will miss their leading scorer, Patrice Bergeron, for at least one or two games due to a mild concussion suffered in game 4 against the Flyers. Tyler Seguin will rejoin the Bruins’ line-up after being held out as a healthy scratch for the start of the post-season. Having the second overall pick available to slot into your line-up is a nice luxury, but the talented rookie will be by no means be a game breaker at this point of his career. Lucic, Horton, and Krejci combined for 19 points in the second round and the Bruins will need them to carry the load again this series in order to advance.
While the Lightning may not have the depth that the Bruins boast, they certainly have higher end talent. Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos combined for nearly 200 points during the regular season. Stamkos hasn’t been nearly the explosive threat during the playoffs as he was during the regular season, but he is still dangerous every time he touches the ice. In addition to St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier is having a renaissance post-season, scoring 12 points in 11 games. The Lightning are also receiving a Fernando Pisani type playoffs from both Sean Bergenheim and Steve Downie.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Zdeno Chara is by far the best defenceman in this series, which is almost enough to win the Bruins this category alone. The behemoth will play close to 30 minutes a night and can shut down the opposition’s best line. He’s a +11 for the post-season, which is tailed closely by Dennis Seidenberg who is playing effective first-pair minutes for the Bs. The Bruins are not receiving any reasonable production from Tomas Kaberle, who is averaging under 20 minutes a night and has only registered 3 assists this post-season.
The Lightning’s defence was a glaring weakness this season, although playing in front of Dan Ellis and Mike Smith may have made them look worse than they actually were. After acquiring Eric Brewer, who is bringing back memories of the player who was once a Canadian Olympian, the Lightning’s defence is much more balanced. This balance will be tested as Pavel Kubina's availability is questionable.
This match-up is extremely close. Tim Thomas has a 2.03 GAA and .937 SV%, whereas Dwayne Roloson is looking positively 2006ish with a 2.01 GAA and .941 SV%. Both goalies have stolen games for their teams this post-season and both likely will as well this series.
You could argue that Tim Thomas’ play during the regular season, plus his past history as a Vezina winner gives him a slim advantage, but right now both goalies are playing tremendously and it's too close to separate.
The Bruins’ power-play is operating at a brutal 5.4%. They failed to score a power-play goal in their opening round match-up against the Canadiens and only managed two in the second round. Tomas Kaberle has failed to help the Bruins’ power-play since his mid-season acquisition and unless he starts to play well the power-play will likely struggle. Similarly, the Boston penalty-kill is low-quality. The Bruins are 10th in the playoffs with a 80.5% mark in 41 times short-handed.
The Lightning’s special teams are completely opposite. Their power-play in third in the playoffs (first among active teams) at 26.7% and their penalty kill is dominating – killing off 94.4%. This is a good sign because the Lightning have taken the most penalties this post-season.
Claude Julien has led the Bruins to two 1st place finishes in the Northeast Division, but has never led a team past the second round before this season. In 2002-2003, Julien won the Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award for the AHL’s most outstanding coach.
Guy Boucher has impressed in his rookie season as head coach of the Lightning, leading them to their first playoff berth since 2007. In 2009-2010, Boucher matched Julien by winning his first Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award while also coaching for the Hamilton Bulldogs.
How they got there
Both teams went the full seven games in the opening round. Boston recovered from a 2-0 deficit at home, whereas Tampa Bay rallied back from a 3-1 hole. Both teams also swept the Eastern Conference’s top two teams in the second round. However, the Bruins beat the Flyers in dominating fashion, outscoring them 20-7, while the Lightning played a tight series with the Capitals, only outscoring them 16-10.
Slight Edge: Boston
Sweeping the Flyers gave the Bruins a measure of revenge after blowing a 3-0 series lead to the eventual Eastern Conference champs last season and they also beat their historic rival in the first round. Other than that there is not much going on here psychologically.
There is little history between these two teams, so to fill out this category we’ll have a rat-off (a term I’m using endearingly here, in contrast to how I usually describe Matt Cooke). Both teams employ super-pests. The Bruins have Brad Marchand and the Lightning have Steve Downie. Both get under the opposition’s skin and, surprisingly, both are offensive weapons for their teams this post-season. Marchand is probably a better player overall, but both are great at what they do and are the type of player that every team wishes they had. This rat-off is a stalemate.
Three Lightning remain from their 2004 championship – St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Kubina - each of whom were integral members. In addition, both Dwayne Roloson, Adam Hall, and Ryan Malone have played in a Stanley Cup Final.
The only Bruins to win a Stanley Cup are Mark Recchi (who did so twice) and Shawn Thornton (who's contributions to the '07 Ducks were negligible). The only other Bruins to play in the Final are Zdeno Chara, Chris Kelly, and Andrew Ference. Patrice Bergeron was a member of last year’s Olympic Gold medal winner, but overall, the key members of the Bruins have little experience in big games.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Prediction: Boston in 6