How they arrived here:
The Tampa Bay Lightning finished the NHL 2010-2011 regular season in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. That meant the Lightning would have to face the fourth-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. The Penguins were without stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but fans should not forget that this team won the Stanley Cup two years ago. It would be a tough test for the Lightning as the series needed all seven games to complete. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson was clutch in game 7. He shut out the Penguins, and improved his “must-win” record to 6-0. Next for the Lightning was the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Many people thought this would be Alexander Ovechkin’s year. However, the Lightning had other plans. Unlike the first round, the Lightning made quick work of the Capitals. In fact, they swept the Capitals. Four games. Boom. Done. Steven Stamkos finally woke up, and returned to the scoring tear he was on in the regular season, but he is still not the team leader in goals this postseason. Instead, it is Sean Bergenheim. He has emerged as a scoring threat that no one saw coming. This is a good sign for the Lightning, as depth and defense is what wins in the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins are not as big of a surprise as the Lightning. The Bruins made it to the second round of the playoffs last year, while the Lightning failed to reach the postseason. This year, the Bruins won their division and finished third in Eastern Conference. In the first round, they had to face their division rivals, the Montreal Canadiens. These two teams hated each other, and Bruin Defenseman Zdeno Chara’s hit on the Canadiens Max Pacioretty added fuel to the fire. It was an intense series, and needed all seven games to complete. The Bruins won an epic game 7 in overtime thanks to Nathan Horton’s clutch goal. Horton actually two game-winning goals in the series, and by the way, this is Horton’s first time in the playoffs. Next was the defending Eastern Conference Champions, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Bruins were still bitter over the collapse from a year ago, when they choked and lost the series to the Flyers after having a 3-0 series lead. This year, history would not repeat itself, and the Bruins swept the Flyers. Goaltending is crucial in the playoffs. The Flyers were still searching for their goaltender; using three different goalies in the playoffs. The Bruins had Tim Thomas, a proven veteran, and the best goalie in hockey right now. Why is he the best? He broke Dominik Hasek’s all-time save percentage record this year. Thomas beat the previous mark of .937 with a .938 save percentage this season. The Bruins look like they have the tools to win the Cup.
Advantage Lightning. Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Sean Bergenheim are the top scorers. Simon Gagne and Vincent Lecavalier look to contribute as well.
Advantage Bruins. The Bruins had the best defense in the Eastern Conference, only allowing 195 goals the whole year. Zdeno Chara intimidates everyone on the ice, and currently has a plus 11 rating in the playoffs. Tomas Kaberle, Andrew Ference, and Dennis Seidenberg help neutralize opposing teams as well.
Tim Thomas. He plays behind a fantastic defensive unit, and he can make the “Sportscenter highlight-reel” saves. Dwayne Roloson is clutch, but Thomas has been more consistent than Roloson.
Tampa Bay has a slight edge because they can actually score on the power play. However, the Bruins penalty killing unit is tough to beat.
Nathan Horton is the X-factor for the Bruins. He needs to continue scoring the clutch goals for his team. On the other hand, Bruins forward Milan Lucic needs to step up his offensive game. He only has two postseason goals, after being the “breakout player” for the Bruins last postseason. The Bruins need someone to step up in the place of injured Patrice Bergeron.
The X-factors for the Lightning are Martin St. Louis and Dwayne Roloson. St. Louis has a minus five rating. He has scored, but he needs to improve his defensive game. Dwayne Roloson has played well, but he needs to treat every game like game 7. He needs to outplay Tim Thomas for the Lightning to win this series.
The Bruins will win the series in five games. They play the type of hockey you need to play in the playoffs. Defense wins championships.
Images courtesy of: Yahoo Sports (Bruins Celebration), Nimg.sulekha.com (Chara’s hit), Rootzoo.com (Spectacular Save from Thomas), Media.Pennlive.com (St. Louis and Lecavalier), and Digitaldads.com (Stamkos)