The Boston Bruins finished off the Tampa Bay Lightning with a thrilling 1-0 victory in Game 7, courtesy of Nathan Horton's game-winning goal in the third period that sent Boston to a 4-3 series victory in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Gethin Coolbaugh (SB Nation Boston) - It came down to the final ten minutes in the third period of Game 7, but the Bruins ultimately pulled out the series after a dogfight. What ultimately led to the Lightning's demise?
Charlie Blackwell (SB Nation Tampa Bay) - I don't think they had enough left in the tank. It took a lot of energy to fight off Boston in Game 6, especially without Sean Bergenheim. His absence in the last two games short-circuited the third line that had come up with so many big plays in the playoffs. He would have been really useful in Game 7 - someone to win battles along the boards and turn the momentum in the Lightning's direction. I think Guy Boucher realized their best chance to win on Friday night was to play for a low score and then try and make one concerted push to get over the top. Which is pretty much what happened, but it didn't work out. (It should also be said that the Bruins played an excellent defensive game.)
GC - Dwayne Roloson had an up and down conference finals, giving up soft goals in some games while standing on his head in others. How much of a role did Roloson's inconsistency play in the series?
CB - Not as much as it would seem. The Lightning won Games 4 and 6 even though he played badly, and lost Games 3 and 7 when he played well. I thought Roloson was slightly overrated in the playoffs as a whole... especially after the first round. He only had one shutout and consistently gave up 2-3 goals a game. Pretty good, good enough to help the Lightning advance while the offense kept scoring goals in front of him, but he wasn't a world-beater.
GC - What was the morale of Lightning fans at the start of the series, and what was fan morale like heading into Game 7?
CB - The Lightning had been freerolling for at least a month. Back in October, fans would have been happy to just make the playoffs. There might have been some disgust if they had bombed out to Pittsburgh in the first round, but after the Lightning came back to win that series, everything that happened after that was a bonus. So while it would have been awesome to keep winning, there wasn't much to be upset about even if they lost.
Most times you're devastated when your team loses 1-0 in Game 7 of the conference finals, but it actually didn't bother me very much because they had done so much more than anyone thought was possible. I don't think we're going to pull a Hartford and throw them a parade, but everyone's still happy and grateful for such an unexpected run.
GC - A lot was made about Mike Calta's grass root campaign to have the Bruins take down their "offensive" signs. What were your thoughts on that whole series of events?
CB - The shuffleboard jokes were just stereotypical and not at all offensive. Not as funny as the ones about female Flyers fans shaving their mustaches, but Tampa doesn't really offer that kind of comedy unless you want to make jokes about strippers.
The ones about the Loch Ness monster and Bigfoot and Lightning fans... here's the thing. How many people have moved to Tampa from Boston and kept rooting for their own teams? That's a big reason why people think Tampa is a bad sports town. It isn't - it's just that people move there from other places and don't stop following their old teams. And there's nothing wrong with that. After all, I moved away from Tampa and I'm still a Lightning fan. But a lot of the hockey fans in the area still root for the Rangers or Flyers or Bruins or their favorite team from wherever they came from, and it's easier to afford good seats and whoop it up on TV if you only care about a couple games on the schedule every year. That always makes the home team's fans look fickle.
I could go on about Canadiens fans flooding the Garden year after year, or the irony of poking fun at bandwagons in the wake of Pink Hat Nation... but this is already too much analysis. Those are signs aimed at the Sully and Murph types. No need to think them all the way through.
GC - How did this series effect the entire city of Tampa Bay? In Boston, the Bruins have completely taken over the city with their postseason run. Was it the same in Tampa Bay?
CB - This playoff run was the latest in a string of events that have made hockey big again in Tampa. Jeff Vinik buying the team (which got rid of the cheap yahoos who used to run the team), hiring Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher, actually spending somewhere close to the salary cap, finding good players, getting rid of dead weight, rocketing back up the standings, playing a hockey game on May 27... all of these things have made a difference. The Lightning will always be at least third in line in Tampa behind the Bucs and Rays, and when USF football is up there in the rankings, I think they even briefly fall to fourth. But with the NFL's season in limbo and the Rays kind of isolated in St. Petersburg, the Lightning can make some big inroads in 2011-12.
And this kind of relates to the last question - the Lightning have never strung together multiple elite seasons in the history of their franchise. That's what helps build a fan base and gets kids growing up Lightning fans, instead of falling in line with whoever their parents root for. The lockout right after the Lightning won the Stanley Cup was brutal, because there's no question the team would have been right back in the championship discussion if there had been a 2004-05 season. Then when everyone came back, the team had to shuffle the deck, the rules weren't as favorable to the John Tortorella system as they had been before, and they barely made the playoffs in 2006.
GC - What do the Lightning need to do to reach the conference finals next year and take that extra step to get to the Stanley Cup Finals?
CB - The biggest question marks are going to be the mobility of the defense and the goaltending. Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand blowing past slow-footed defensemen like Mattias Ohlund and scoring goals was a problem. (Same thing would have happened to Pavel Kubina if he had played in the series.) Also, Roloson is 41 years old, and while the Lightning have some promising goalie prospects like Cedrick Desjardins and Dustin Tokarski, they need a bridge for a year or two. Hopefully Roloson has another year in him.
A lot of Lightning fans want to get Brad Richards back in free agency, and while he would be an excellent replacement for Simon Gagne, he would want a long-term deal. I think the Lightning would be better suited spending those dollars on some faster defensemen, or saving their money for the extensions that Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman are going to require in a couple years.
GC - Boston and Tampa Bay have developed a rivalry in baseball over the years with the Red Sox and Rays. After this series, do you think a similar type of rivalry could develop with the Bruins and Lightning?
CB - It could, and I think it would be a bit nastier than the Red Sox-Rays rivalry. The thing that softens the baseball rivalry a little bit is that we have a common enemy. There's nothing like that with the Bruins and the Lightning, unless you want us to teach you how to hate the Capitals. (We dislike Montreal, but mostly because of their annual January ritual of making up insane "the Lightning are going to trade Vinny Lecavalier to Montreal!" rumors.)
GC - Will you and the city of Tampa be rooting for the Bruins in the Cup Finals - or is it Canucks all the way?
CB - Sorry, but I'm going for Vancouver. I know both teams have long Stanley Cup droughts, but Boston doesn't need another championship, you've had six of them in the last decade. Vancouver lives and dies with the Canucks. Also having a Canadian champion may finally force the NHL to try and market teams from across the border. The Sedins have so much comedic potential - it would be great to see stuff like that instead of the league cramming Crosby and Ovechkin down our throat for another year or 10.