This is short series of posts that together with the one I have written for InsideHockey about the cores of the two teams, will give the fans of all degrees and access to the teams a basic understanding of who is on the ice. I probably watched ten to twelve Vancouver regular season games and about as many post season games. For the Bruins, the regular season number is around seventy, and I did see all the post season games.

Team power matrix:

Vancouver: Fast moving, team with high end scoring talent, a goalie that is just starting to be recognized as a playoff producer, and a concentrated high end talent group with good role players. The defensive depth of this team is impressive, but has suffered various injuries

Boston: A hard working, physical team who excel when they stick to the system, scoring and defense have definite leader but the scoring burden is spread out over more shoulders and sticks than Vancouver.

Forwards:

Vancouver:  Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Alex Borroughs lead the Vancouver Canucks in scoring. Together they have combined for ten powerplay goals this post season, the rest of the roster has seven.

Boston: David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand are the points leaders and they have about 2/5ths of the teams post season powerplay goals.

Defense:

Vancouver: The Canucks defense is fueled off the time on ice leaders Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamuis, who have each averaged a bit under twenty six minutes a game. A solid workload, but not crushing. Bieksa is a +10 and Hamuis is a +5 with a bit less scoring to go with it. Behind them are Ehrhoff and Edler as the next two most important defensemen, the two have combined for more points than the nominal top defenders, but have been less reliable defensively speed plays a big part in both of their games.

Boston: Norris trophy winning, player voted toughest to play against, and largest man to ever play the game Zdeno Chara leads the Bruins defense. He uses both the four “s’s” (smarts, speed, stick, strength) to keep himself in the game at all times. Frequently paired with him is Denis Seidenberg who has exploded this post season into one of the stories media types and fans alike love, he’s actually averaging more minutes this post season than Chara. Behind these two the picture is a little less clear. Adam Mcquad has very quietly picked up more hits than Ference or Kaberle who play more minutes, without a single penalty. Johnny Boychuck has had the highest of highs with a game winning goal and the lowest of lows in game 6 vs Tampa Bay where he was on the ice for all five goals against (and two for). Andrew Ference is fourth in total time on ice, and is the fastest of blue liners to suit up this post season. Thomas Kaberle has had more than one shakey game since arriving just ahead of the trade deadline but seems to shaking down into place. Kaberle leads the blueline in powerplay time.

Goaltending:

Vancouver: Roberto Luongo is the starting goaltender for the Canucks, and has started all but one game this post season. He’s been chased twice in favor of backup Cory Schneider who started one game. In 18 games they have allowed 48 goals on 523 shots on goal. Luongo is a more traditional goaltender than his Bruins counterpart, but is is a bit more likely to move the puck and to drop his stick to make a save.

Regular season numbers: Luongo 60GP .928 sv% and 2.11 GAA, Schnieder: 25 GP, .929 sv% 2.29 GAA.

Boston: Tim Thomas spent played all 18 games of the Bruins post season allowing just 43 goals on 603 shots. Any goalie coach putting together videos of unorthodox goalies in the hockey world today will probably begin and end their video with Tim Thomas. Often criticized for his scambly, acrobatic style, he’s got one Vezina trophy to say it’s not a fluke, and a second one is likely to be awarded this summer to punctuate that statement.

Regular season numbers: Thomas 57  GP.938 sv% and 2.00 GAA.

First and foremost, to all the players, coaches, management and staff of the Tampa Bay Lightning, god damn what a team. No quit, no lack of heart and enormous skill and dedication this was perhaps the finest playoff series I’ve seen in my life.

For the Bruins organization, excellent work by the team and management to win another division title, and add the conference championship to it. I adore the effort, skill and composure of this team when they bring their “A” game.

Tonight’s game exemplified Boston Bruins Hockey. The Bruins dominated the face off circle, sacrificed the body individually and collectively to block shots and lay hits at a solid pace. The discipline was unblemished. The structure could have withstood an earthquake. And players made smart, and unexpected plays. The followed my storylines to the smallest dot, and did played with consummate composure.

The key play that produced the only goal of the night was a text book demonstration of one team doing it right, and the other doing it wrong. When the Bruins advanced the puck to the redline, the Lightning backed off. When the Bruins advanced the puck to the blueline and gained entry, the Lightning backed off. When Horton was rolling down the slot, despite both defensemen and a very speedy forward between him and Krejci, the Lightning backed off. The Lightning flat out allowed the goal. They should have take away space from Krejci, lifted or tied up Horton’s stick, and filled the passing lane. With three bodies, two of them quite large there were the players in place to do it, they simply lacked the instinct or training to do so.

It was also great to see Boychuck redeem himself with a superlative and quiet effort, he was rewarded by being on the ice for the only goal of the game.

Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins will square off for four wins and a life time of dreams.

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.

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.

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.