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Eastern Conference Final Preview; (3) Bruins vs (5) Lightning

May 13, 2011

The Bruins ads strike again with this jab at Floridian hockey fans

Thus far the Bruins have done everything anyone could have asked of them. They dispatched their most hated rival in thrilling fashion, exorcised the demons against the Flyers, and have gotten to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1992. They’re closer than they have been in nearly 20 years but face perhaps their toughest test in the Lightning.

The two teams have had strikingly similar postseasons to this point. Both had seven game wars in the first round before sweeping away the competition in the second round, earning long layoffs. Both teams have had terrific goaltending push them through the first two rounds but other than that the teams are very different. The offensive-minded Bolts have stars up front who must carry the load while the Bruins need role players to come up big. The Bruins defense is a polished unit who can but rarely jump into the rush. The Lightning use their defense as much as possible in the offense and often push the bounds of defensive responsibility. The Bolts have the most impressive special teams in the playoffs while the Bruins are far and away the worst. Despite all these things it still looks like it’ll be a tight series, because well, it’s the Eastern Conference Finals.

Forwards

Brad Marchand– 5-6-11 +9
David Krejci– 5-5-10 +5
Nathan Horton– 5-5-10 +6

Martin St. Louis– 6-7-13 -5
Steve Downie– 2-10-12 +9
Vincent Lecavalier– 5-7-12 +4

After struggling to score goals in the first round the Bruins broke out in a big way against the Flyers thanks in part to their terrible goalies and depleted defense. The Bruins scored 20 goals in their four-game sweep of the Flyers, three more than they did in the seven-game first round. Those numbers are bound to come down to Earth but not to the level of the first round. The Lightning’s 3.30 goals per game is the best in the playoffs but a pretty good margin. Unlike the Bruins the Bolts’ stats haven’t been inflated by huge scoring games, they did have one 8-goal game, but aside from that their offense is consistently getting 3-5 goals. The Lightning have equal parts speed and skill, mixing in some big bodies in Lecavlier and Ryan Malone. They rely more heavily on their first line or two but have also got depth scoring from Sean Bergenheim and others. For sheer skill I give the Lightning the advantage but the Bruins aren’t that far behind if they play up to Round 2 expectations. ADVANTAGE: LIGHTNING

Defense

Dennis Seidenberg– 1-5-6 +8
Zdeno Chara– 2-2-4 +11

Eric Brewer– 1-5-6 +1
Pavel Kubina– 2-1-3 +2

Knowing that the Bruins entire system is based around team defense it shouldn’t be a surprise that this is the Bruins biggest advantage in the series. The GAA indicates that this matchup is a virtual push but Dwayne Roloson‘s heroics are more responsible for that stat then the Lightning defense. The Lightning were able to run-and-gun against their two opponents and haven’t really faced a defensive-minded team yet. The Bolts 1-3-1 can give teams fits in the neutral zone, especially the more fast-moving teams but the Bruins have never been that. They are more comfortable chipping and chasing and with only one defenseman back it could be a big factor in the series. The Bruins top pairing has been known to shut down top lines and with the Lightning so reliant on top end scoring their advantage could be the deciding factor in the series. ADVANTAGE: BRUINS

Goaltending

Tim Thomas– 8-3, 2.03 GAA, .940%, 0 SO
Dwayne Roloson– 8-3, 2.01 GAA, .940%, 1 SO

The most surprising player in the playoffs this year has been Dwayne Roloson. Always a good goalie, Rolo has elevated his game at the most crucial time of the year despite being 41-years old. His numbers have him in Hart Trophy talks and are a huge reason the Lightning are here today. Tim Thomas is a very similar story for the Bruins except he’s been this good all year long. Thomas has had to be finer because of his teams lack of offense. I’ll admit that I have’t paid keen attention to Roloson’s postseason but I do know that the goalie more likely to come down to Earth is him. I also think the physical matchup the Bruins provide could be problematic because of screens and traffic. ADVATANGE: BRUINS

Special Teams

Bruins- PP 2-for-37 (5.4%), PPGA 8-for-41 (80.5%)
Lightning- PP 12-for-45 (26.7%), PPGA 3-for-54 (94.4%)

Well, this one isn’t even close. If the Bruins went 7-for-7 in their next seven power-plays they still wouldn’t be as good as Tampa’s and that’s saying a lot after 11 games. I’m more surprised and impressed by their penalty-kill. 3-for-54 is impressive against any team but especially against the two teams they’ve faced. Granted, Pittsburgh went 1-for-35 in Round 1 and had a terrible power-play for a while but still impressive. I do expect the Bruins power-play to score a few goals this series but the PK will be tough without Patrice Bergeron for at least a while. Discipline will be key this series. ADVANTAGE: LIGHTNING

Intangibles/Coaching

Claude Julien has got his team here through going with his guys and not changing. It shows confidence and has worked but can and has backfired. Guy Boucher rolls three lines and double-shifts his best players and instills a confident calmness in his team. The Lightning’s players, for the most part, haven’t been here before. The Bruins haven’t either but they do have more overall playoff experience. Experience goes to the Bruins but leadership goes to the Bolts making it a push. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

The Pick

Let me preface this by saying that I think that Bergeron will be back in the lineup much sooner than later, like Games 2-3 as a possible return. The Bruins pose a better overall threat to the Lightning. They’ve faced a depleted Penguins team and a choking Capitals team to get here. Their goalie is playing over his head and is due for some fatigue. For the first time the Bruins don’t have an overriding motivator in their opponent (other than the Cup). This series will be won by the team who’s ready to play after a long layoff and I think that team is the Bruins. The Bruins home ice advantage actually means something this series and the team wins ugly but wins. The Pick: Bruins in 6.

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