Wow! Did the second round kick my butt or what? Four series played, only one guessed right and that was Vancouver-Nashville.
One would figure that since Boston hasnít made it past the second round since 1992, when I was EIGHT, that it would never make it again. Yet here they are after knocking off last yearís Eastern representative, Philadelphia in four straight facing a team that I thought would get bounced in the first round in Tampa Bay. And the Bolts were oh so close to going home early too, falling behind Pittsburgh 3-1 before winning three in a row and are now winners of seven straight.
The Skinny: So both Boston and Tampa Bay have been waiting a long time, since last Thursday and Wednesday respectively, riding the hot hand of goaltenders Tim Thomas, 37 and Dwayne Roloson, 41. Who would have thunk it? Certainly not me, but the Washington Capitals proved once again, never bet on the Washington Capitals.
Boston and Tampa Bay met four times in the regular season and Boston was the clear and honorable victor going 3-1 and outscoring the Lightning 15-8. However the only wrinkle in that scenario is that the Bruins didnít face Roloson even once this season, not while he was with the Islanders, or when he was traded to Tampa.
Forwards: What can you say about Tampa Bayís forward core, especially the fourth line of Moore, Bergenheim and Thompson? Well for starters, the word WOW comes to mind, between the three of them, they have combined for 19 points in the eleven games played so far. When youíre looking to make a deep run, you need all lines firing on all cylinders and the Bolts have been. In addition to the grinders, the top guns are getting it done too. While Steven Stamkos is mostly riding shotgun with Marty St. Louis, he does have six points in the eleven played, but the real story is the incomparable St. Louis with 13 points and the resurgence of one Vincent Lecavalier who is finally back to over a point per game pace with 12. The status of forward Simone Gagne is unknown at this point, but Tampa hopes to have him back soon as his invaluable leadership (two Conference Finals and one Cup Finals) will go along way going forward.
The line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton went nuts against the Flyers with Krejci doing the most damage (nine points in the sweep) and like Tampa Bay, the Bruins are getting timely goal scoring from third line centre, Chris Kelly. The biggest loss for the Bruins however is Patrice Bergeron who was absolutely blasted by the Flyers Claude Giroux in game four and that is a big blow to the Bruins forward core as they lose their top face-off man and penalty killer. Boston had better hope it gets its inspirational leader back or they could be in a world of hurt.
Taking in account the injury to Bergeron as well as the unprecedented scoring from Tampaís fourth line, this one is easy.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Defense: Boston has the best defenseman in the series in the form of the giant, Zdeno Chara who is the unquestioned leader among Bostonís defense. However, a big letdown for the team and the fans is one Tomas Kaberle who must think heís still in Toronto, because playing this late into the season just doesnít make sense. Kaberle was expected to come in and boost Bostonís powerplay and give them something theyíve been lacking since Dennis Wideman was dealt for Horton, and instead heís laid a big fat egg with just three points including NONE on the man advantage. That is just unacceptable production for a player who the Bruins paid a premium to acquire. Also unsure is the status of defenseman Adam McQuaid who went headfirst into the boards in Philadelphia after missing a check on Mike Richards, and he hasnít been seen again. So with only Chara as the main threat so far, the Bruins defense doesnít look that great.
Tampa Bay on the other hand having bought into Guy Boucherís system is looking like a well oiled machine. Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer lead the Tampa Bay charge, while Marc-Andre Bergeron, Brett Clark and Randy Jones serve as complimentary pieces. The Bolts were able to render Alex Semin useless in the dismantling of the Caps and did a marvelous job shutting down that entire Caps offense.
Tampaís defense in a lot of ways reminds me of the solid if unspectacular defense of the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes, where they are doing just enough to help out a goalie who is doing a phenomenal job in making them look better than they really are. Boston on the other hand, other than Chara isnít getting much.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Goaltenders: Ah the stars of the show, the key to any Stanley Cup success. The names Brodeur, Roy, Hasek, Dryden, and Plante all live on in the annals of hockey because they have their names on the Stanley Cup and one of Roloson and Thomas seek to join that upper echelon of goaltending and are doing everything in their power to do.
Roloson must share with the rest of the world his secret to being a staggering 41 years old and providing heroic goaltending as seen by the likes of the aforementioned goaltending greats in their youth. He is the leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate at this point if I were a betting man. 389 pucks have been thrown Rollieís way and heís stopped 94% of them with a 2.01 goals against average including one shutout. Heís the reason the Bolts have won seven in a row and aims to keep it going.
Thomas is the young man in the equation at 37, and like Roloson being the backbone of the Bolts, Timmy T serves the same purpose in Bean-town. Like Roloson, Thomas also has an 8-3 record, and has a 2.03 goals against average and a .937 save percentage which puts him just behind Roloson for second amongst playoff goalies remaining. Thomas is so unorthodox between the pipes, he plays a style that no one can replicate and is a disciple of Dom Hasek, playing in much the same way. Heís just a treat to behold.
This one is too close to call at the end of the day, both goaltenders are defying logic at their age and sit just .004 percentage points apart in saves, and .02 average in goals against. Itís just too close to call, theyíre both awesome and a testament to their position.
Coaching: Claude Julien is in the Conference Finals! Wait, what? Someone stop the presses! This is a new day in the era of the NHL, after so many playoff failures in Boston and Montreal and a brief 79 game stay in New Jersey, Julien thumbs his nose at the Devils and Habs and provides vindication to Peter Chiarelli for keeping him on after the Flyers debacle last season. But as someone who has seen a lot of Julien, you always sit there wondering just when exactly is the other shoe going to drop? A Claude Julien team sits on leads and tries to protect it at all costs, which, more often than not ends up biting his team in the butt. Is this the year that Julien finally silences all critics? Iíd say heís already done so with a trip to the finals, but a real mediocre showing by Boston, and they may get even louder.
Guy Boucher is carving out quite the legend for himself and as a huge fan of one Pat Burns, I canít help but notice the parallels between Boucher and Burns. Both were never NHL players, both spent three years as a head coach in the QMJHL, both spent one year in the AHL, both went to the Conference Finals in their first season as head coach in the NHL, both are a great sound-byte, both are stern taskmasters. Burns of course, went all the way to the Cup Finals before losing to the Calgary Flames, so could Boucher do the same and face a Canadian team in the Finals? Boucher, like Burns is a no-nonsense kind of guy who doesnít take anything from anyone and is not afraid to make his voice heard.
On top of that, Boucher has implemented the 1-3-1, which is a newer name for the word Neutral Zone Trap, so not to scare away casual viewers and has his players believing in not only the system, but in themselves as well.
Edge: Tampa Bay
Series Outlook: So Tampa Bay has the edge in all areas except goaltending in which the two teams are tied. However, the edge is a very thin line for both teams and they are truly, very evenly matched. In the end, Iím always waiting for the other shoe to drop on the Julien front and want to see the Burns-Boucher parallel run a little deeper as sort of a tribute to Burns who passed away in 2010. So that being said I see Tampa Bay taking this one by the squeakiest of margins.
Tampa Bay in Seven.
Vishal Hussain has been a hockey fan since 1987 and a Devils fan since 1990. A graduate of the critically acclaimed College of Sports Media in Toronto Ontario, Vishal has actively been a fantasy player since 2000, winning his first ever Yahoo! pool and continually finishing in the top 3 each year since. He watches every game, every night through NHL Centre Ice, both online and on TV and is an excellent evaluator of fantasy players and up and coming prospects in the league. Email Coach Hussain at vishal_hussain@hotmail[email protected].