This was clearly a tale of two games. One of twenty minutes. One of forty minutes. It’s not surprising that the team that played better over the larger amount of team was smiling when they left the ice.  The Bruins played twenty masterful minutes to open the game with Patrice Bergeron rolling and raping the Lightning for two unassisted goals. One a short handed goal in which he picked off a Stamkos pass and skates two thirds of the length of the ice and leaving Roloson floundering.  The first was a Kaberle-level brainfart by Clark and Hedman that yielded the game opener.

After Roloson took himself to purgatory at the end of the Lightning bench the Bruins never seemed to exhibit the swagger and drive. Later in the game Recchi was shown with a big grin on his face, even though the Bruins had not shown up. At this point in a game he’s usually all business and about business. Kaberle after a disorienting ascension to  the dizzying heights of competence was back to his now familiar subterranean skill set, a pathetic shot block, then a screen on Thomas that was picture perfect from Guy Boucher’s perspective led to the go ahead goal. Thomas and Chara combined for a horrid turnover in that can be blamed at least in part on the forwards leaving the ice who started coasting to the bench from about the tops of the defensive circle. This left Thomas and Chara to deal with five opposing players all deep in the zone. Thomas could have frozen the puck, Chara could have taken it to the boards but this level of failure requires a committee and they were just two members of it.

Gagne got a goal that counted, but again the story of the off season for the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn’t the big guns. Purcell had a pair of goals just sixty three seconds apart. Bergenhiem continued his assault on the stat sheet. St Louis got a meaningless empty netter. Aside from St Louis goal, the big three for Tampa Bay was kept quiet or exposed. Lecavalier managed an assist. Stamkos had the Bergeron turnover on the powerplay, no points and just one shot on goal in over 18 minutes of play.

God awful effort after about eighteen minutes in the first period for the Bruins. Krejci was a -3, never got a shot on goal and might as well have forfeited his faceoffs winning just three of twelve. Sadly, Krejci’s effort was probably equal to Kelly and Campbell’s put together. They combined to go 4 of 15 in faceoffs, neither recorded a hit or a blocked shot and both were nearly invisible when not screwing up.

While the impact was minimal it should be pointed out that the call on Marchand for interference was just as good as the team effort after the first, and the non call on Smith for tripping was even worse.

There’s no excuse for a game like this. No team has gotten to the Conference finals without coming back from behind a few times. No team with four guys who have passed forty or more goals on their resume is out of a game when only down three. Complacency kills.

Without a doubt the highlight of game three for an large portion of hockey fans on social media was the Guy Boucher angry face. Within minutes, I saw at least a dozen photo shop efforts, and who knows how many quips. For Bruins fans it was the win. The Lightning had to content themselves with either the knowledge that Roloson’s performance against Krejci on the opening goal wasn’t in fact a seizure, or what was undoubtedly the finest (and possibly only) hit by Marc-Andre Bergeron. @Cowhead simply made up more lies about staying up late to answer every tweet.

For game four, we can no doubt wonder at the utility of having a game when we know the Rapture will be around the same time the players get back to their hotels and homes.  On the ice, the questions abound. The first two games were fairly wide open and were unable to feature defensive breakdowns as it looked like the entirety of the bluelines of both teams converted to forward for the game. Game three was a seeming reversal of this trend. But, as I’ve said of Phil Kessel’s forecheck, once a month is an aberration not a commitment.  So which teams will we see?

  • How many rapture jokes will be made during the game?
  • Will the defense of either team play like they did in game three, or in the opening games?
  • How many goals will be errantly assigned to Tyler Seguin?
  • Will either Patrice Bergeron who played more than 19 minutes or David Krejci who had the wind knocked out of him show any ill effects this game?
  • If Rich Peverley is spoon fed another goal mouth pass with a prone goaltender can he actually bury it?
  • Will we get to see Kevin Paul Dupont (@GlobeKPD) take some pretty hilarious swipes at other members of the media post game?
  • Will Brad Marchand finally get Steve Downie to do something only Steve Downie would do?
  • Will the big guns finally lock, load and light the lamp? Lucic, Lecavalier, St Louis are all at lower than expected goal totals even with high end goalies in each net.

 

If the Thrashers move to Winnipeg, itself a ‘failed’ NHL market becomes a reality, it will be for much the same reason. Not because of a failure to draft well, not because some inviolabe law of the universe prevents winning in that location. It won’t even be because no one cared. Hell, we can all name quote unquote bad sports markets that have had teams win championships.

There’s a movie, about a much lesser sport that has is famous for the line “if you build it they will come” this truth is of course how hundreds of towns get on the map and draw tourists and their willing wallets all over the continent. Everything from the biggest ball of yarn, to corn mazes, and all manner of other things people might find interesting if they are in the area, or can make an excuse to be there. The owners of the Atlanta Thrashers have failed to heed this truism. They didn’t build, they didn’t retain, they simply expected people to show up for something. To create a new tradition, you must first make it attractive. Winning is the most attractive thing possible in sports. The Thrashers never have. They had Ilya Kovalchuk, Marc Savard, Marian Hossa all at once. All. At. Once. ALL! AT! ONCE! What did they do with this embarrassment of riches? They embarrassed themselves. They failed to secure the additional talent to put them over the top. They then failed to secure any of the three franchise quality players to long term deals.

Instead, what they did was squabble, bicker, name call and engage in litigation against each other. Another truism I think everyone is familiar with is “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”, business men are supposed to be in the business of making money not headlines. Atlanta Spirit, unlike the ownership in Phoenix weren’t saddled with an atrocious lease, they owned the building. They weren’t a driving force behind the team, they weren’t even the quiet spider at the center of a web quietly pulling strings. They had celebrity fans who with even a little bit of success could have helped turn the Thrashers into a cash cow.

Insufferable arrogance, breathtaking ignorance, grotesque levels of laziness are a recipe for failure and in this case the brain trust that is Atlanta Spirit have contrived to brew it to excellence.

Bergeron was in and on. Tim Thomas was much more focused and contained than he has been in the first two games of the series. The defense remembered their job title. With these three things the Bruins win was almost a given.

Bergeron was just a dominant force wherever he was on the ice. Faceoff circle he won sixty four percent. His passes which are possibly his weakest offensive asset looked like Savard or Thornton at their best, particularly the one through Brewer to Peverley who was rolling straight into the crease.  His penalty kill time was flawless. Let’s not forget he played over 19 minutes tonight and that’s as much as two minutes more than he averaged in the regular season and more than any other Bruins forward and behind only Seidenberg and Chara in total minutes.

In the first two games of the series I was genuinely worried about the play of Tim Thomas.  This is rare. I wanted him to be the Bruins starter since the first time he was called up and I saw him in net. He’s just so damned fun to watch. In the first two games of the series he was not focused on the puck, his tracking of the puck carrier and most likely pass was off. At almost any point in the regular season the Kaberle turnover in game two doesn’t go in. As we’ve learned over the past few seasons, when Thomas is well primed by several games of play close together he’s in the zone and works magic. Tonight he was on his game, in focus and had 31 saves.

As a whole, including Kaberle, the Bruins defense was impressive. despite the Lightning finishing with a shot advantage, the Bruins had more offensive zone time simply because they took the puck away so much in the neutral zone. More importantly in their defensive zone, they allowed Thomas to see the first shot, and then gave him room to either smoother the puck or pass it along to an open player. There were very few bobbles, little frustration and lots of patience.

Paille was in over Thornton, but played a nearly invisible six minutes. Seguin looked very crisp, but was well covered by the much improved defensive structure of Tampa Bay. Ryder had a quietly impressive game. At one point the UFA to be ran over Marc-Andre Bergeron in the offensive zone. Late in the game he was key to the Ference goal, and all night he had his feet moving, stick on the ice and head on a swivel. Lucic had a solid game despite only getting one shot on goal and two hits. He setup the opening goal drawing Hedman out of position and allowing Krejci enough time to retie his skates, sing the Canadian, American, and Czech national anthems before tucking the puck in for the game winner at the 1:09 mark of the game. Particularly amusing was the manic stylings of  Steve Downie late in the game, at the start of the third period he very nearly got a penalty when lined up opposite Brad Marchand who took advantage of all the free real estate and got into the erratic Bolt’s head.

 

According the Bruins powers that be, Patrice Bergeron is not officially in. However, today he took contact, followed his normal practice routine, and hasn’t had any setbacks since returning to the Garden after the Giroux hit. I predicted this would be the game he returned a few days back. And given the wretched defensive effort of the last two games they are lucky to have split the two games at home. On the road his faceoff prowess will be even more needed.  If he is in, maybe just maybe it will jolt his running mates Marchand and Recchi back to some usefulness on the ice.  Furthermore he gets to rejoin the Conn Smythe race.

  • Who sits? I’ve said either Paille or Peverley who have been subpar except in penalty killing. Others are leaning towards Shawn Thornton being the odd man out, I’d rather leave him in as Downie is not the most disciplined player int he NHL, and Moore was getting frisky in the last game.
  • Will the real Boston Bruins defense please stand up?
  • Can Seguin and Ryder continue the stat sheet stuffing?
  • If the Bruins get an early lead, does Roloson stay in the game? Or will Smith start the game?
  • Will Milan Lucic prove to be an offensive force, assuming he plays at all after missing practice today?

Only one way to find out.

 

 

While there may actually be sports fans in Tampa Bay, not even Seal Team 6 can find them.

10: Despite having the second best goal scorer in the NHL on the team in 2010 and two recent very high picks on the team as testament to their high quality drafting, the Lightning didn’t have a single player in the top 10 jersey sales.

9: In some cities people go to hockey games because of the hits, or tradition or for great goaltending. In Tampa Bay they go for the air conditioning.

8: When going to games in most hockey arenas they check to make sure you aren’t carrying weapons or explosives. In Tampa Bay they check to make sure your mobility cart and oxygen tank have enough left to last the game.

7: When you get carded in Tampa Bay they aren’t looking for your license just your AARP number.

6: When they show replays in Tampa Bay they are all closed captioned.

5: Any city outside Wisconsin that takes someone who’s nicknamed after a pretty malodorous variety of cheese seriously as a sports radio personality is just a sad, sad place to be.

4: The bathrooms at the St Pete Times Forum are really popular as most area residents are reluctant to enter their own for fear of the bathtub meth exploding.

3: This year, despite being a playoff team, the Lightning drew less than .5% more ‘fans’ than the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2: Despite being the only news outlet to cover the Lightning more than twice a year @TBLightning has about 1/3 the followers of @NHLBruins

1: Eventually all three Bolts fans will read this giving me the same market penetration as local media.

Top to bottom, and first to last the Bruins defense in last nights game both by the defensemen and the forwards was as bad as the officiating.  While in this case they just barely good enough to get the job done, in the last two games 10 goals have been allowed. While Thomas is clearly at fault in three or four, most of the others can be chalked up not to great play by the opposition, but sloppy play by the defense. For those who haven’t done the math, they have allowed in two games almost twice the number of goals they allowed the Flyers all series and more than three times what they allowed per game in the regular season.

While McQuaid  and Ference have been the best defenders so far this series, even the two of them need to sharpen up a bit. At the other end of the spectrum has been been Kaberle, who despite two assists tonight was ineffectual at best, which is a marked improvement over the goalmouth turnover of game one. Seidenberg and Chara need to be better. They have been the two best blueliners for most of the season and have worked well as a pair. The Bruins can’t advance, and won’t win many games with the average play these two have shown this series. As good as Boychuck was in the first game, I think he was almost as bad in the last one, but it’s very hard to tell when others around you have mailed it in. That said, he was the one who fell on top of Thomas, knocking his helmet off and leading to the fifth goal.

The guys heads were far enough out of it tonight that even Julien’s mid game shuffling and barking behind the bench did little to slow the oozing meltdown that was the back backbone of the teams success this year. For the sake of comparison to the regular season, the Bruins never allowed more than three goals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in any of the four games.

I’ve been pretty outspoken about the play of certain guys on the roster throughout the season. I’ve commented positively on them when tweeting as they have deserved, but haven’t actually blogged about it.

Michael Ryder. Wow. Half of his goals this post season have been game winners. Not a bad stat for showing he’s in the mix when it matters this second season. He’s also been a minus player just once since the playoffs began. He had that spectacular glove save that probably turned the series around. Tonight’s flashy goal where he had the back hand, back to the net flip in was so filthy we finally know what happened to all the nasty they pulled out of Boston Harbor. Aside from being my favorite goal of the playoffs, I’m pretty certain all of the women sitting at that end of the ice left the arena expecting Ryders baby. Just incredible.

Tyler Seguin. No I don’t think he could have had this game against the other teams the Bruins have played this off season, but leaving aside the goals, and the sweet assists he did the rest of the game right too. He won both of his faceoffs, he didn’t turn the puck over and when he saw he didn’t have the support to move the puck up ice he calmly backed off into the defensive zone, waited on the line change and advanced with help. I’ve not once questioned his puck handling, passing, shot or speed but the other areas have been lacking. Tonight he showed he wasn’t merely going through the motions and saying the right things in practice. This momentum,  along with the increased fitness and wisdom gained by not playing for weeks will be hugely potent weapons in his arsenal going forward.

The effort tonight was undeniably better than in game one. More than two guys showed up, the faceoff circle was a good place to be, and the team showed a ton of drive and desire.

Despite not scoring Lucic had a pretty good game, 2 hits, five shots on goal and solid positional play. Thomas Kaberle was nearly invisible, which probably means he’s played his best game in a month, and picked up two assists, he did also have two giveaways.  Chara was uncharacteristically exposed on a the Stamkos goal when he was stripped by Hall at center ice, and Stamkos made Boychuck look bush league in beating both the defender and Thomas. Overall, you couldn’t want anything more offensively of the team, they chased Dwayne Roloson and were twice successful on the powerplay. Defensively the game is in the most generous terms I can muster a great learning opportunity.

While Tyler Seguin unquestionably had an enormous game that was exciting to watch, critical to the teams success and the the type of play we were all hoping for even before he was drafted, there are factors that play into it that should cause you to curb your enthusiasm. First and most obvious is that Seguin is the best rested player on either team save for Tukka Rask. He hasn’t played a game in several weeks. That means bruises, sprains and strains are at a minimum and energy is at its peak. Next up is the quality of opposition. While Roloson is a top shelf goalie, he doesn’t play in a vacuum. The defensive unit in front of him is subpar. Even with Roloson having a couple shutouts after being traded south, the Tampa Bay Lightning were 21st in the league for goals allowed. By comparison the Flyers were eleventh, and the Canadiens were 8th. They are also not nearly as physical as the Flyers or Canadiens. While the hits stat is flawed, on the regular season the Flyers finished 10th, and even the Habs who lost most of their physicality to injuries finished above the Lightning. I think the idea he could have been doing the same thing in the first two rounds, is generously speaking suspect.

All that said, if Patrice Bergeron is ready to go next game, I wouldn’t sit Seguin, he doesn’t deserve it. I’d put either Paille who played less time than any other forward this game, or Peverley who is a -3 with just one shot on goal this series on the shelf. With the number of minutes Krejci played tonight I wouldn’t be surprised to see his minutes below average in the next game if Bergeron is back.

Thursday night in Tampa Bay, watch or waste three hours, your call.