Eastern Conference Final Preview: Bruins vs. Bolts

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There may not be a more interesting series in these entire playoffs. Two very different teams. Two very different coaches and playing styles. Yet two very similar paths to the Eastern Conference Finals for 2011.

The Tampa Bay Lightning started their journey against a Pittsburgh Penguins team devastated by injuries, and they struggled to get past them in seven games, coming form behind to win the series against a Crosby-and-Malkin-less Pittsburgh. Similarly, the Bruins were facing their arch-rival Montreal Canadiens, also devastated by injury and arguably playing over their heads for a portion of the season. The Bruins also needed seven games to beat the Canadiens in a series that surprised many and, in the end, could have gone either way.

Of course, following these game sevens, none of the Bruins’ or Lightning’s struggles to make it past the opening round would matter anymore. And both teams clearly showed that in the two upsets of the second round, stunning and sweeping their opponents in four games each. The Lightning would take care of the heavily favored Eastern champion Washington Capitals thanks to great goaltending and veteran leadership. The Bruins would take advantage of horrendously porous goaltending and an injured Chris Pronger, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in similar fashion, dominating most of the four games and outscoring Philly by a large margin.

Once again, the past is in the books for both these teams. And the chance of these two teams following the same path any further is done with. One team has to win, one team has to lose.

For the Bruins, this moment has been in the making almost as long as it has been for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Aging owner Jeremy Jacobs has been in charge almost as long as the team’s cup drought, and the current management’s, coaching staff’s and to a degree, even the player’s timetable to make it work is slowly starting to run out. The organization needs this cup win.

One could make a case that the Lightning need the win just as much as the Bruins. Sure, the Bolts won the cup in 2004, but when you’re a southern team, a seven year drought could be just as long as an established team’s drought in the eyes of an impatient fan. Unlike the Bruins, the Bolts have a new owner, a new GM, and a new coach. But a lot of the key components from that 2004 run (mainly Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier) are the same, and they know a run to the finals doesn’t happen every year either.

Which team wants it more? Which team will make the finals? Only the results of the never four to seven games will tell.

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Prax’s Take:
Last set of predictions, I proclaimed that I still wasn’t over the Canadiens’ loss to the Bruins in the first round. As a self-proclaimed temporary Flyers fan, I think that still holds true. So yes, I’m a little bitter. Yes, I still don’t like the Bruins, and I don’t think their style of play deserves to go any further than it already has. But I respect what they’ve accomplished, and I can respect how they didn’t let a three game lead slip by them for a second year in a row.

That said, I also have a lot of respect for the Lightning. They have an excellent coach that should still be in Montreal, excellent players, a few from Montreal, and a very enthusiastic work ethic that has gotten them this far. More importantly, I like them better than the Bruins too!

These teams are very different, but also in a lot of ways very similar. While both teams rely on their top players, the Bruins are deeper, especially up front. Three solid lines, even without Marc Savard and Patrice Bergeron. Two clutch defense pairings, and a lot of veteran leadership and tough but capable grinders.

The Bolts are going to have to rely on undersized Martin St. Louis to go up against Zdeno Chara and friends, but guys like Steve Downie and Teddy Purcell are very capable of stepping up in supporting roles. Moreover, Steven Stamkos is due to just explode after two disappointing series. Between the pipes, these teams are evenly matched with Tim Thomas in one net, a guy everyone continues to doubt no matter what he accomplishes, and Dwayne Roloson in the other, the hockey equivalent to Liam Neeson in action movies. Over-aged and under-appreciate, but still more than capable and willing to hand your ass to you on a silver platter.

This will be a great series, filled with hitting, goals and good hockey, and it will go long. But only one team can win, and my bias – admittedly – has to come into play in order to choose a winner.
Prediction: Bolts in 6

Around The Checking Line:

Jonathan Szekeres: The Lightning are a nice little story. They have a great season with a hockey legend in Steve Yzerman running the show, Martin St.Louis reminds us all that he's still got it, Dwayne Roloson proves he's still got some gas in the tank, blah blah blah. The Lightning haven't had an easy way to the conference final, per se, but they have had the easier way. Taking on a Crosby-Malkin-less Penguins squad and then tackling a Capitals team with no secondary scoring, defense or goaltending. Not to say the Lightning don't deserve to be here; they played just as hard as anybody. But this is their first real test and in comes in the form of the Boston Bruins. They Bruins hit hard every shift, have outstanding goaltending, and a big shut down defenceman in Zdeno Chara. Boston has already exercised their demons by obliterating the Philadelphia Flyers, so I think this will be a relatively easy series for the Bruins. The only way the Lightning could possibly win this series is if Roloson stands on his head, and their powerplay continues to be successful.
Prediction: Bruins in 5

Rob McGowan: The Bruins made sure that history wouldn't repeat itself when they faced the Philadelphia Flyers in a playoffs rematch. And by making sure of it they took out the brooms, swept them up and tossed them in the trash, completely demoralizing them in almost every way possible. They are certainly going to be a tough opponent for the Lightning. But with that being said, I expect the Bolts to come away with this one and make their way to the Cup finals. The Lightning not only have superstars that are contributing, but their depth on the roster is what's responsible for bringing the W's. Bergenheim, Thompson and Moore have been nothing short of excellent, and Dwayne Roloson will do everything in his power to get possibly one last chance to win a Stanley Cup.
Prediction : Bolts in 7

Alex Mueller: I'm somewhat amazed that the Lightning made it this far but in reality this team isn't much different than the team that won the cup several years ago. I am stunned they didn't let the Capitals win one game though. Both teams are pretty deep so the outcome would have to be on who has the better goaltender. Thomas has shown that he can stonewall 50 shots repeatedly and even though Roloson has been good, I would say Thomas is the better goalie. Should be a great series either way. Zdeno Chara has a foot over Martin St. Louis, so that will be a great match-up to watch.
Prediction : Bruins in 7

Mark Trible: The way the bolts are playing, it seems like everything is going in their direction. Despite Boston's throttling of Philadelphia, I think the loss of Patrice Bergeron may be too much to handle against the high scoring Lightning.
Prediction: Bolts in 7

Shahab Khan: During the playoffs the following has come to light: Tampa Bay has the hotter goaltender in Roloson; Tampa Bay has the better forwards with the chance to score on every shift in Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos; Even though Boston has the better defense-corps as a whole, Victor Hedman is the best defenseman in the series; Losing Patrice Bergeron is a bigger hit than losing Simon Gagne; Guy Boucher is a better coach than Claude Julien; Tampa Bay has a better leader than Boston in Martin St. Louis.
Prediction: Bolts in 7

Jason Pietroniro: Both these teams went to a game seven in their first round. Both teams swept in the second round. This will be the most interesting match up so far, in my opinion. While Tampa's firepower over shadows the Bruins', Boston has the advantage between the pipes. Tim Thomas will be the difference maker once again. Boston has a slight advantage of size, but Tampa has the advantage in speed. I believe this series will come down to depth. Third line heroes. Special teams will also play a huge role in defining who wins this one. I have to give it to Boston.
Prediction : Bruins in 6

Lowell Williamson: The ‘charm’ of the Bruins will wear off in the Conference final. The brilliance of Tampa Bay’s Head Coach Guy Boucher will prove too much for the Neanderthals from Boston. Speed and skill will finally prevail as the Bruins have been rather lucky to this point.
Prediction: Bolts in 6

Glen Miller: The Bruins and Lightning were both impressive in their second-round take-downs of the East's top two seeds. Each team has received clutch scoring from unlikely sources; Tampa's Sean Bergenheim potted 4 goals in the Washington series and has 7 overall in the post-season while Brad Marchand recorded 4 goals and 2 helpers in Boston's sweep of Philly. They've also gotten good goaltending from Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson. Tampa is playing their unique 1-3-1 system perfectly but Boston is playing inspired hockey and haven't even gotten much in the way of contributions from highly-touted deadline acquisition, Tomas Kaberle. This is a tough pick but I'm going with Boston. I feel they have just a little more depth, especially on the blue line, and Thomas gives the Bruins an advantage over Tampa in net.
Prediction: Bruins in 7

Larry D’Angelo: These teams matchup pretty well as they have the same numbers in GAA and Goals for per game. They both have an 8-3 record entering the 3rd round.The goalie edge goes to Boston as Tim Thomas is on fire. This series will ultimately be decided on special teams, where the Bolts are first in the playoffs in the PK with a 94.4% kill rate , while the Bruins also have a good PK with an 80.5 kill rate. The Bolts also hold the edge with the man advantage with a 26% success rate while the Bruins have a 5.4% success rate, finally notching 2 power play goals against the Flyers. The Bruins size will also give them the edge as they showed in round two. I believe that Tampa is the more offensively talented team but may have a hard time beating Tim Thomas and Boston's defense.
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Owen Durkin: Boston has no idea what theyre up against in Roloson. They haven’t seen him all year, either. Both teams can roll their lines, and get scoring from anyone. Both have fantastic goalies. Both can play sit back and wait game, and both can score off the rush. Thomas wins or loses this series for the Bruins, because special teams is going to be the determining factor, and the Bruins powerplay is poo-poo. Coaching and goaltending will determine the victor. Sorry Boston...advantage: Tampa.
Prediction: Bolts in 7

Newman: Nothing more than this is what I had from the outset despite my prior Capitals flip flop. The Bruins are a tad deeper and Chara will be a big factor in shutting down the high powered Lightning offence. This should be a very exciting series.
Prediction : Bruins in 6

Chuck Gaston Jr.: This is going to be as great a series as much as it is unsuspected. Tampa Bay has riden into the Conference Finals on the great play of many individuals. So much can be said about the great play of Roli the goalie and team MVP Martin St.Louis, but Victor Hedman and Sean Bergenheim have been just as good. Boston is heading into this series with perfect play by Tim Thomas and outstanding offensive production throughout their line-up. With big Chara looking healthy and strong, this team is going to be very difficult to beat. Much of Tampa’s offense has come from in front of the net, with Lecavalier and Malone parking their big bodies in front for second chances and deflections. I feel that Boston’s big guns will be able to neutralize these chances and force long shots on Thomas. While in the offensive zone I think Boston’s net front presence and relentless attacks will be the key to breaking down Roli.
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Kyle Busch: I don't see what's so special about Boston. Watching them against Montreal they seemed pretty pedestrian. They also played the Flyers, who have some of the worst goaltending in the league, and for sure in the playoffs. But now Boston faces a hulking Lightning defence, and a hot goalie in Dwayne Roloson. Has anyone added the starting goalies' ages together? Thomas + Roloson = 78 years. Unbelievable. I think Thomas will steal a few for Boston, but Tampa is just better.
Prediction: Bolts in 6

Andy Veilleux: The Bruins are just too strong of a team for Tampa to handle. Also, people keep pointing to how good Roloson has been, but Pittsburgh's offense was horrid, and Washington's offense laid an egg in their series.
Prediction: Bruins in 6

Evan Pivnick: Roli the goalie. He has been magnificent as of late. Not to mention St. Louis, Stamkos, and the sudden emergence of Sean Bergenheim.
Prediction: Bolts in 4

Adam Reid: Finally, the weeds have been taken out, and the top two powerhouses in the Eastern Conference remain. To be honest before the season started, if you would have told me that these two teams would play each other for the Eastern Conference Finals, I would believe you. Infact, I had predicted Boston to go deep all along, even before training camp. But, nonetheless both teams have put together great runs, dismantling teams which that have faced with ease. Both teams boast the same kind of firepower up front, they have solid lines which can produce when needed, but of course it depends on how long Patrice Bergeron will be out of the Bruins lineup. What this game will essentially come down to is what reminder can remain at the top of their game. But, personally I believe that Dwayne Roloson’s fairy tail story has run out of gas, and Tim Thomas will shine, and show why he is Vezina trophy material. Bruins will prevail in the end.
Prediction: Bruins in 7

Alicia Sprenkle: Tampa Bay seems like a team that cannot be denied. No one would have expected that Dwayne Roloson would be helping to back-stop a team so deep into the playoffs this year, but he has done just that. Boston was excellent in the last round, but one has to wonder how badly the loss of Patrice Bergeron will hurt. For a guy with serious concussion problems, it's a scary situation. Tim Thomas, specifically, has been outstanding, but Tampa's offense may turn out to be too much to handle.
Prediction: Bolts in 6

Steve Palumbo: The Eastern Conference Final between the Bruins and Lightning, will showcase some of the best talent in the NHL. Tampa Bay boats a potent offense that includes Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavialier and Hart Trophy nominee Martin St-Louis. Boston counters with an outstanding defense led by Vezina candidate Tim Thomas and Norris Trophy nominee Zdeno Chara. On paper this has all the makings of a classic, hard fought series but the unpredictability of this run for the Cup has me scratching my head with this one. I'm going to take into consideration the fact that I didn't pick either of these teams to be here and pick the Boston Bruins. The main reason is Tim Thomas. A great goalie can slow down great offense. Plus, They destroyed the Flyers easily. The Flyers had all sorts of goaltending issues and Boston exploited that weakness. I really wanted to pick Tampa but after thinking about it for a bit, I'm convinced the Bruins are the best team.
Prediction: Bruins in 7

Micheal Aldred: Dwayne freakin' Roloson.
Prediction: Bolts in 6