Game seven is here. You can argue that it shouldn’t be, but it is. The Bruins had a done such an effective job on the penalty kill in games one through five that statistically in the series their powerplay was better than Tampa Bay’s. Fortunately for the Bruins, probability plays no favorites. With the Lightning scoring three powerplay goals in a row and going well above even their average performance its unlikely they will manage the same or more today. Both teams have been to game sevens before, both teams have one them.

  • Win faceoffs. Six games, six times this statistics leader has won the game. It is not a coincidence.
  • Passes with a purpose, and bodily motion on the powerplay.
  • Calm focus. When the Bruins bring their “A” game, any one else in the NHL is getting a “C” when graded on the curve.
  • Smarter play in front of Thomas. We’ve seen at least three goals in the past two games because defensemen were creating screens they shouldn’t have been.
  • 21,600 seconds of smart, effective hockey need to be played.
  • The Bruins need to recognize which players, particularly on defense are on the ice against them and do as much as they can to exploit the weaker players.

Game seven is here. You can argue that it shouldn’t be, but it is. The Bruins had a done such an effective job on the penalty kill in games one through five that statistically in the series their powerplay was better than Tampa Bay’s. Fortunately for the Bruins, probability plays no favorites. With the Lightning scoring three powerplay goals in a row and going well above even their average performance its unlikely they will manage the same or more today. Both teams have been to game sevens before, both teams have won them.

* Win faceoffs. Six games, six times this statistics leader has won the game. It is not a coincidence.

* Passes with a purpose, and bodily motion on the powerplay.

* Calm focus. When the Bruins bring their “A” game, any one else in the NHL is getting a “C” when graded on the curve.

* Smarter play in front of Thomas. We’ve seen at least three goals in the past two games because defensemen were creating screens they shouldn’t have been.

* 21,600 seconds of smart, effective hockey need to be played.

* The Bruins need to recognize which players, particularly on defense are on the ice against them and do as much as they can to exploit the weaker players.

We all saw game six. We know which break downs occurred, and we’ve all seen enough Bruins hockey to know that isn’t the top level of performance they can deliver. Hell, putting it halfway up the ladder for the teams effort and execution as a whole would be a gross injustice to the games in which they were merely bad a times. So let’s take a look at those reasons for home.

10: Thomas Kaberle looked comfortable and confident on the ice. This is perhaps the first time this series he as done so. In nearly twenty minutes of play not only was he not the worst player on the Bruins, he was an actively competent.

9: The powerplay worked. The boost in confidence for the players will likely carry over to other areas of the game.

8: In Boston, on home ice Julien will have the last change. This means the ability to put Seguin out there when Lecavalier, St Louis and Stamkos aren’t.

7: Mark Recchi by anyones standards had a bad game, and being the old warhorse that he is even if pride doesn’t intervene, habit probably will. You simply can’t play in the NHL as long as he has, climb as many record charts and not be in the habit of excelling.

6: The Bruins as a whole failed to exploit the three weakest defensemen on the Tampa Bay roster for goals. Only one of the Bruins goals was scored with Hedman, Lundin, or Bergeron on the ice. In games four and five, one of those three was on the ice when the Bruins scored four of their six goals.

5: In this post season Tim Thomas is 4-1 in games after he allowed four or more goals.

4: In this post season the Boston Bruins have not lost at home, after losing on the road.

3: Johnny Boychuck who was on the ice for all five goals against in game six had what is unquestionably the worst game of his career, and can’t conceivably turn in a worse performance. In two game sevens with Boston, Boychuck has a 1-1-2 +2 line with a powerplay assist.

2: Patrice Bergeron who had his first minus game of the series has not had two minus games in a row in 15 post season appearances.

1: Teddy Purcell, Martin St Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, and Steven Stamkos who all scored in game six, have not scored two games in a row in this series.

 

The Bruins achieved about half the keys to the game tonight.  The Krejci, Lucic, Horton line was dynamic. Krejci go the teams first playoff hat trick since 1991, this was great the looked driven all game.  Kaberle was not the worst defenseman on the ice and not just because Boychuck was heinous, but because he was mostly steady.

The penalty kill was atrocious tonight, Boychuck was on the ice for all three Tampa Bay powerplay goals, and both even strength goals. There simply aren’t words for how bad that is, how damaging that is, and how awful his play was other than perhaps loss inducing. On one goal he pinched in deep, leaving Ference to confront Lecavalier and St Louis streaking up the ice, and that may just have been the least extravagantly bad of his plays. On another goal he lifts his stick from the ice and spends a full five or six seconds futilely attempting to dislodge the Tampa Bay player in front of the net on the penalty kill, and makes zero effort to track the puck. Unacceptable in beer league, unfathomable in the NHL.

In the faceoff circle they were just below even, and you can call that a wash or a loss it almost doesn’t matter when you consider the other things done wrong. The big problems aside from some players mentally flat-lining was they did not get enough shots on net, and they weren’t playing the physical game that disrupts opponents they were out hit, and the Lightning blocked more shots. That is a recipe for failure.

Among the few bright spots, were the fact that they did not quit. They took several shifts off in the middle of the game, but they were looking to win right up until the last buzzer. Adam McQuaid was also a big plus tonight and along with Chara and Seidenberg put in very steady and positive minutes all game long.  Of concern possibly more than the disintegration of Boychuck was the play of Recchi. For the first time in a long time, at every shift after the opening rush he looked old, slow and like he couldn’t compete. So far this year, you’d be hard pressed to name a player other than Bergeron who has contributed in as many ways. Sadly, that was not in evidence tonight.

Game seven, Friday night at the Garden.

This could be the night. The dreams of one team can come true, the dreams of one team can be put on hold for the other. The Boston Bruins can advance tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightning have two choices, win or go home. With two goal tenders the caliber of Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson the deciding goal is unlikely to be a fluke. With superstars like Chara, St Louis and Lecavalier the atmosphere will be charged hours before puck drop.

Keys to the game for the Bruins:

  • Tim Thomas mustremain an enigma.
  • The centers must be dominant in the faceoff circle. The team that has won this battle has won each game.
  • Top players must be top players. Krejci, Lucic, Horton, must remain in the limelight they claimed in game five.
  • Focus, drive and control have to be hallmarks of Marchand, Seguin, Ryder and Kelly.
  • Players like Campbell, Recchi, Boychuck, Kaberle who have been quiet this series must step up.
  • Each and every player, each and every shift must remain dedicated to ending the series tonight.

Don’t think that when the Bruins lockers get cleared out I’ll be packing up the blog and breaking it out again around training camp. There’s a lot to cover between the hoisting of the Cup and watching the rosters shakedown. Here are some of the things you’ll find in this space over the summer.

  • The 2nd Annual UFA Challenge
  • Free agency blogging
  • Bruins Grades
  • Team tweaks I’d like to see
  • Draft coverage
  • Realignment/movement of teams should it happen.
  • Season Preview for all thirty teams
  • Prospect camp
  • Trades
  • other NHL/hockey news

So don”t tune out, you’ll have too much to catch up on when the puck drops on the new season.

Like game four, this two was a tale of two games. The opening fifteen minutes of the first fifteen minutes the Bruins looked like they were waiting for someone to put gel on the paddles and shock them back to life. The last five minutes of the opening period were a much closer affair with the Bruins holding the edge in intensity. While this was hardly a perfect game,. the Bruins got out of it the only thing that matters. The win.

Faceoffs were a decidedly different affair tonight, the Bruins clearly dominated this stat. Patrice Bergeron with 15 and David Krejci with 14, combined for just one less faceoff win than the entire Lightning roster. Peverley, Krejci, Bergeron and Kelly were all over 50% on the dot tonight and that speaks to effort. Lucic made a beautiful pass to set up Hortons goal. Not only did this breakup a slump by Horton it was redemption for the two penalties he took playing overzealously in the early stages of the game. Adam McQuaid probably deserved the 3rd star in tonights game, being paired with Kaberle most of the night and then adjusting to playing with Ference after Boychucks injury, but you can absolutely make a case for six or seven guys making it into the three stars.  Marchand got sent to the sin bin for diving while Hedman sat next door for an interference call.  Late in the second Patrice Bergeron would pass the puck from the far boards to the crease rushing MArchand and the rookie would fire his way into the scoring column getting the eventual game winner.

The third period was text book playoff game with effort from all parties and intensity in all areas of the ice. The referees ended the parade to the box, and the players never stopped moving and scrambling. The only part that marred it was the very predictable, uncontrollable Steve Downie taking a stupid penalty. This type of play is bad for hockey, bad for his team and yes bad for Johnny Boychuck who was injured on the play and never returned. The scrap, pushing and shoving after the game was both predictable and acceptable. It adds spice, and because everyone knows its coming nobody on the ice is surprised by it or sucker punched.

While the Bruins still couldn’t make the powerplay click, they tried at least one new look including having Chara in the crease and slot area. The screen this presents and the reach he has not to mention the difficulty of moving him is something the Bruins should try every third or fourth powerplay. St Louis, Lecavalier, and Hedman were all kept off the score sheet. While the media, and some fans will focus on the fact the Bruins are just one win away from playing for the Stanley Cup, they are equally two losses away from the golf course.

Bye Bye LiamIt’s almost safe to call this Game five the sequel Certainly the connection between the first twenty minutes and the last forty minutes on Saturday was strictly temporal. The effort difference for about twelve of the guys on the ice couldn’t have been larger, nor the results more divergent. While it’s likely that Kaberle of the 37 hits in 82 games will play over Kampfer of the 41 hits in 38 games, the rest of the storylines still bear watching.

  • Effort: Will it exist?
  • Consistency: Anyone other than Bergeron going to contribute every minute they are on the ice?
  • Power play: Will there be any snap to it when they get into the zone or will it be mushy pass after awkward entry?
  • Can the defense hold Lecavalier, St Louis, Gagne, and the rest of the top forwards to modest efforts, or preferably off the board entirely?
  • Which goalies start and finish the game?
  • Is this the game where Downie pops his cork and does something Downie-esque?
  • Faceoffs: Will Campbell, Krejci, and Kelly remember how to win them or will their total wins be less than Bergeron’s, again?

Please remember when watching tonight’s game, that regarless of the doom and gloom from various outlets that one this is not last years team as over half the roster has changed, and two the Lightning are not as talented as last years Philadelphia Flyers.

Bonus Content, Liam McHugh’s eventual upgrade.

The Upgrade

Some bloggers are urging the benching of Kaberle for Kampfer (or Hnidy, or Bartowski, or a blowup sheep) there are lots of factors to consider in this. So let’s go for a point by point comparison.

Playoff experience:
Kaberle: Before this series Kaberle hadn’t been to the playoffs since before the lockout. Judging by his nearly a gaffe per shift performance isn’t in these playoffs either. In 92 total NHL playoff games has 34 points.

Kampfer: Like Tyler Seguin has zero NHL playoff experience coming into this year. In non-NHL playoffs he has an over half point per game record, versus Kaberles non-NHL post season stats of .08 points per game.

Matchup versus Tampa Bay:
Kaberle: Brings 92 games of playoff experience. Has seen his minutes drop from 17:29 in game one to 11:35 in game four.
Kampfer: Scored two goals against the Lightning this season, one on a wrist shot, one on a slapshot. Like Seguin has speed enough to back up the opposing defenders. Also brings the ability to hit. Has a strong and ready shot is not prone to overhandling the puck.

Season stats:
Kaberle: 4-44-48 +4 82GP
Kampfer: 5-5-10 +9 38GP

Its not hard to see the potential advantages of this particular roster rotation, and aside from the single data point of Kampfer not having played in quite some time I can’t find any strong statistical argument against it. There might however be psychological demerits based on other players getting nervous and making mistakes they might not have for fear of losing their roster spots. Guy Boucher who reminds many of Heath Ledger’s Joker is sharp enough to rally his team by pointing out the Bruins are so desperate they would go with a rookie over of veteran and go on to point out how fragile this make them.

Another and possibly more impacting change would be to shuffle the Krejci and Kelly lines. Lucic has often looked like he was auditioning for a sequel to Shaun of the Dead is hardly the only problem, Krejci has had his usual faceoff schizophrenia with win percentages ranging from the twenties to the sixties, and Kelly has been his lines weakest link more than once this series. While Ryder and Seguin looked great in two games, it might be for the best to change things up now that the Tampa Bay Lightning have recovered.

Two possible line combinations:
1: Lucic – Kelly – Horton and Ryder – Krejci – Seguin. This leaves the winger tandems intact and gives a larger physical center to Horton and Lucic capable of disrupting Tampa’s defense in a different way as a line. Krejci would be paired with Ryder again, and the two of them might recapture some of their past glory, with Seguin added you have a high degree of finesse together.
2: Lucic – Krejci – Sequin and Ryder – Kelly – Horton is a change more focused on the wingers. The LKS trio is very similar to Lucic – Savard – Kessel line, and might reignite Lucic because he will go back to being the physical presence on the line from a physical presence. Likewise, the RKH line doesn’t lose too much speed in the tradeoff and gets better at puck retrieval and protection.

Another possible change that noone sane has mentioned yet is starting Rask.

Of all these ideas, I think the last is both the least useful and least likely. The others, will almost certainly not happen today, but have definitive positive value.