BOSTON (CBS) – The City of Boston is ready for its first Eastern Conference Finals game in 19-years when the Bruins open up their series against the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night.
It has been an exciting playoff run for the Bruins so far, coming back from a 2-0 series hole against Montreal followed by a sweep of Philadelphia, but beating Tampa will prove to be a tough task.
Besides having a head coach with a really cool (and secretive) scar, Tampa is a dangerous team on offense and special teams. The main problem they had during the season was goaltending, but they shored up that position with the acquisition of Dwayne Roloson.
The Bruins had a relatively easy go of it against the Flyers, but will have to play smart against the Lightning if they want a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.
Tampa Packs Powerful Punch On Offense
The Lightning were an offensive power house all season, finishing the year seventh in the NHL in goals per game (2.9). They tout three of the better scorers in the game in Martin St. Louis, Vincent LaCavlier and Steven Stamkos. The three combined for 101 goals in the regular season, and have tallied 15 so far in the playoffs.
Tampa is also getting contributions from their third and fourth lines, with winger Sean Bergenhiem is leading the way. He has scored seven playoff goals, including four in the sweep against the Washington Capitals.
“You look at how they’re playing so far, it seems to be their third or fourth lines that are stepping up huge,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “When you see a team with four lines playing like that, it’s a tough team to beat in playoff time.”
“They’re skilled guys, you have to take time and space away from them,” said veteran Mark Recchi, playing in his fifth Conference Finals. “You have to be on your toes, you have to be in their faces and you have to play hard and the right way. If you do that, it’s going to make it a lot harder.”
A lot of the focus will be on Stamkos, who was second in the NHL with 45 goals in the regular season.
“He knows how to shoot the puck and he knows where to be,” said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “The puck seems to follow him quiet a bit and once he gets it, he seems to score most of the time.”
Brad Marchand Scouts Steven Stamkos
“When you’re that good a player, you’re going to create some offense at some point. You just have to keep them to a minimum,” added Recchi. “You’re never going to shut guys down, it’s eliminating how many chances they get. You don’t want to allow a ton of them.”
“The key is not to turn the pucks over in the neutral zone because they jump and pounce on those turnovers,” said Seidenberg.
Lightning Dominance On Special Teams
Tampa has also been stellar on special teams, both in the power play and penalty kill. They score 26.7-percent of the time when they have a man-advantage, and kill off an unbelievable 94.4-percent of power plays. Compare that to the Bruins, who score on just 5.4-percent of power plays.
Claude Julien On Tampa Power Play
“Their power play is running at a stupid rate right now so we’re going to have be smart and stay out of the box,” forward Shawn Thornton told 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher and Rich earlier in the week. “We’re going to have to concentrate on playing five-on-five hockey as much as possible.”
Beating Tampa In The Neutral Zone
Tampa is famous for their unique 1-3-1 zone, invented by Boucher. The Bruins will have to figure out how to beat it and have a few ideas on how to pull it off.
“You need speed,” Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said is the key to beating Tampa’s 1-3-1 zone. “Basically at some points they line up four-stride right across the blue line. It becomes a frustrating exercise if you don’t have speed and you’re not there.”
“Everyone knows how defensive their system is and how much everyone has bought into it,” defenseman Adam McQuaid said. “With those guys, they’re very opportunistic. They don’t need many chances to take advantage of a breakdown here and there. You have to be aware when they’re out there and limit their chances as much as possible.”
“We just have to maintain our speed in the neutral zone, and support the puck in the neutral zone,” said Chiarelli. “To get through that 4-5 man line, you have to have support on the puck if you’re going to chip it behind them or do a hard dump.”
“It’s a matter of getting various layers of speed through the neutral zone, getting the puck through and recovering it,” he added.
Putting It Past Roloson
Tampa struggled in net in the early going of the season, the Bruins 8-1 victory in January is just one example, but struck gold with the deadline acquisition of 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson. He has been close to lights out in the playoffs, with a league leading 2.01 goal-against-average to go with an 8-3 record. Tim Thomas is a close second with a 2.03 GAA.
“He doesn’t get out of control, he’s square to the puck,” Chiarelli said of Roloson. “He’s not overly big but you can tell the way he handles the puck, the way he handles the rebound, he has experience.”
The Bruins had success when they were able to put pressure on Montreal netminder Cary Price and they should look to do the same in front of Roloson. They had an easy time against the Philadelphia duo of inept goaltenders, but Roloson is no slouch.
The Bruins face the daunting task of taking on the Lightning without their best player, Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron is expected to miss at least the first two games after sustaining a mild concussion in Game 4 against the Flyers.
Chris Kelly will take over for Bergeron on the second line with rookie Tyler Seguin set to make his playoff debut in Kelly’s spot on the third line.
Julien Talks Kelly, Seguin Stepping Up
Kelly has been steady during the postseason, scoring four goals and helping on three others. It will be tough to fill Bergeron’s shoes, but Kelly knows he has plenty of help from the other guys on the line.
“We’re a pretty deep team and we have a lot capable players that can move up and down the lineup,” Kelly said. “That was definitely one of our strengths in this postseason so far.”
As for Seguin, he is ready to make his playoff debut. After sitting for the first two series he is excited to get some ice time, and will not be intimidated by the playoff atmosphere.
“I think playoff hockey, you can’t be going out there afraid to make mistakes,” Seguin said earlier in the week. “You have to go out there and play confident, compete and show passion. That’s three things I really want to do.”
Tyler Seguin On Tampa, Playing Time
“The only thing I said to Tyler is that he has to shoot the puck as much as he can because he has a tremendous shot,” said Rick Peverly, who will play alongside Seguin on the third line.
“He’s got speed, he’s got skill and it doesn’t take him much to create something,” Julien said of his prized rookie. “We see that in practice every day, and hopefully that confidence carries in to the games.”
It does not sound like Bergeron will be out too long, as he is steadily progressing in his recovery. Until he returns though, other guys will have to step up, not just Kelly and Seguin. The first line of Lucic-Krejci-Horton will have to get the Bruins off to fast starts if they want to take the Lightning out of the game (and series) early on.
Every game of the Eastern Conference Finals between the Bruins and Lightning can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s with pregame coverage beginning 30 minutes before each game with the Dunkin Donuts Bruins Pregame show