While we wait for the Sharks, Wings, Predators and Canucks to finally settle who’ll play in the Western Conference Finals, we already know who will go at it in the east. Both the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning swept their way into the ECF, the Bruins knocking off Philadelphia in four games and the Lightning doing the same to the top-seed Washington Capitals.
It was the first time a number-one seed had been swept in a playoff series since the current conference-based format began in 1994.
Boston entered into the postseason as the third seed and Tampa Bay fifth, but both had identical 46-25-11 records and 103 points. That was good enough for the Bruins to win the Northeast Division crown and for the Bolts to finish second in the Southeast.
Tampa Bay’s 247 goals were one more than Boston tallied, but the Bs only gave up 195 goals while the Lightning allowed 240.
The Bruins took three of the four games played between the two. On November 11 the Lightning won 3-1 and December 2 the Boston pounded the Bolts 8-1. Then on 28th of December Mark Recchi scored a power play goal with 19.7 seconds left in the third period to give his team a 4-3 victory and last March 3 it was Milan Lucic scoring with 3:42 remaining in regulation time as the Bruins won 2-1.
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Lucic, who led the Bruins with 30 goals this past season, did not score a goal in the last ten regular season games and failed to find the net in the first ten playoff matches. However, he potted a pair in the 5-1 game-four win over the Flyers last Friday.
After snapping out of his scoring drought, he was quick to give thanks to his teammates for their support.
“My teammates, especially my linemates with Krejci and Horton, we’ve been able to create so much chemistry here”, he said. “They always have my back, and even for them, times were tough this year. I had to lift them up, and just tell them to relax, and that was the same sort of thing.”
“They had my back, and they just told me, ‘It’s going to come. Just keep sticking with it.’”
Tampa Bay, who trailed Washington for only 26 minutes and 15 seconds during the four game sweep, comes into this series riding a seven game winning streak. Boston has won five consecutive and eight of their last nine after falling behind the Montreal Canadiens two games to none in the opening round.
Both teams have gotten outstanding performance in goal during the postseason. Tim Thomas is 8-3 with a 2.03 GAA and .937 SV%. However, Tampa Bay’s Dwayne Roloson has been just a tad better statistically, 8-3 with 2.01 GAA, .941 SV% and 1 SO.
While I’m sure the Bolts’ skaters appreciate what Roloson has done for them this spring, he has nothing but praise for them as well.
“You call it whatever you want, relentlessness, willpower, desire, whatever word you want to use, but what I think it just comes down to is not being afraid to lose”, the 41-year old netminder said of his teammates. “The guys are not afraid, they are going out, they are playing and putting everything on the line day in and day out.”
“When you do that, it makes for a tough [team] to play against.”
Patrice Bergeron , who leads the Bruins with 12 overall points in the playoffs, will miss one possible two games with a concussion. This means rookie Tyler Seguin will see his first ever NHL playoff action. Brad Marchand, Davis Krejci and Nathan Horton each have 5 goals. And defenseman Zdeno Chara is a +11 and averaging a team-high 28:41 TOI.
Martin St. Louis leads team with 13 overall points, 6 goals 7 assists. Sean Bergeneim’s 7 goals leads the Bolts, Vinny Lecavalier has 5 goals and 7 assists, Steven Downie is a +9 while defenseman Eric Brewer’s 26:09 TOI leads the Bolts.
As for the outcome of this series, the only thing I’m really sure of is that it’s unlikely to end in the fashion both teams experienced in the second round…a sweep. This once should be fun to watch with plenty of action and will probably go deep, six or seven games.
I’ll go with the Bruins to win in six. If I’m right we’ll then get a chance to see former Thrasher Rich Peverley, who was traded to Boston in February, perform in the Stanley Cup Finals.