Boston and Tampa Bay haven't played a hockey game in over seven days entering Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Saturday night at 8 p.m. EDT at TD Garden (TV/Radio: Versus/WBZ-FM). How will the long layoff affect them? Read more at Stanley Cup of Chowder.
There aren't many certainties in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but now that the NHL field has been pared down to its Final Four, we know two things for sure; one, for the first time since 2007, there will be a true East-West Stanley Cup finals, and two, somebody's going to pull a hammy in Saturday's Eastern Conference Finals Opening Game.
The Bruins will come into the game after seven full days of rest since their 5-1 vanquishing of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Tampa Bay Lightning will have had nine days since they last played a game, a 5-3 victory in Game 4 over division rival Washington.
While the San Jose Sharks were busy hacking and wheezing before ultimately falling over the finish line just ahead of the Detroit Red Wings and the Vancouver Canucks tried to give Carrie Underwood's husband as much face time as possible with the Green Men, Tampa and Boston each closed out their Eastern Conference Semi-finals in four games. The reward for their efforts was a week off - a privilege for many of us, a curse for a hot hockey team.
There's little doubt that Saturday night's first period will be an eyesore - 20 minutes of hockey will either produce a half-dozen goals or fewer than a half-dozen shots, and there isn't much of a middle ground. It's what happens to teams that get a week off.
The biggest area of concern is the goaltending. Tim Thomas is 37 years old. Dwayne Roloson is 41. Much has been made of the two goaltenders being Hockey East alums, and ink has been spilled regarding Roloson's decision to spurn Vermont for Lowell, thus giving Thomas the last scholarship at UVM and sparking his career.
Well, that was all some 20-plus years ago. All that matters now is that the two have been the hottest, most consistent goaltenders in these playoffs, and they've been sitting around for the past week-plus, perhaps polishing up their golf game, perhaps playing NHL 11 to keep sharp.
And what does that usually mean? That usually means that the hot goaltenders will get cold. While Tampa's a very talented offensive team, the Bruins defense dominated another offensively talented team in Philadelphia, but the Bolts play a little bit different game. Tampa's not opposed to taking a page out of Montreal's book to get to the power play - which is converting better than one of every four chances (26.7%). But the Lightning - which average 12.2 penalty minutes per game, haven't been half-bad at killing penalties this postseason, either, limiting opponents to three goals on 54 power play chances.
The X-Factor in special teams may be the one guy who may not play in the series. Patrice Bergeron leads all Bruins forwards in short-handed time on ice, anchors the second power play unit and leads the team in playoff points with 12. The chemistry that he's developed with Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi will be missed from the Bruins lineup, as well, as he's elevated the rookie to be a double-digit point producer through 11 playoff games.
The Bruins will be getting a boost from the return of both Adam McQuaid and Steven Kampfer on defense, two players who open the ice in their own ways -- McQuaid by slowing down opposing forwards and Kampfer by moving the puck. Kampfer hasn't played in a month, and figures to be a bit more rusty than his teammates will be.
The Lightning have plenty of...well, lightning, in their offense; Martin St. Louis leads the team with 13 playoff points, and Vincent Lecavlier and Steve Downie (12) and Teddy Purcell (10) aren't far behind. Sean Bergenheim leads all NHLers with 7 playoff goals, and Simon Gagne provides the team with veteran experience on the attack, which has helped Steven Stamkos to a strong playoff campaign (4-2=6 totals), despite being a minus-2.
Everyone knows what the Bruins can bring; Marchand, Nathan Horton and David Krejci each have five goals apiece and Chris Kelly isn't far behind with four. What the Bruins do that the Lightning haven't done so well is spread their offense out; only four Bruins don't have a positive plus-minus in these playoffs, compared to nine members of the Lightning.
Roloson (.941) and Thomas (.937) are each saving a percentage of shots equivalent to their age, with Roloson (2.01) a mere two-hundredths of a goal better than Thomas (2.03) in goals against.
Since their inception in 1992, Tampa has only won four games (out of 35) against the Bruins in Boston. The Bruins have been much better at home this postseason than they were in the regular season, and they'll need to continue that streak if they want to advance to their first Stanley Cup Finals since 1990. Tampa didn't win in Boston this season, being outscored 10-2 in two games.
But after a combined 16 days off, the stats mean little. The playoffs are starting all over again for the Bruins and Lightning this Saturday. Tampa may be looking to raise a banner in the St. Pete Times Forum, but the Bruins are 8 wins away from such a celebration in Boston.
If they really have what it takes, now's the time for them to start showing it.