The series: #5 Tampa Bay Lightning (46-25-11, 103 points) vs. #2 Boston Bruins (46-25-11, 103)

Regular season: Looking back on the regular season and trying to use it as a barometer for how a series will play out is always a fickle game, but it gets trickier whenever we’re dealing with the Lightning. Steve Yzerman put a band-aid on his team’s profusely bleeding Achilles heel when he acquired Dwayne Roloson in January, but prior to that head coach Guy Boucher was stuck watching Dan Ellis flop around for 26 starts to the tune of an .889 save percentage.

Boston won three of the four games played between these two teams, but two of those wins–including an 8-1 drubbing–came before the acquisition of Roloson. In fact, Roloson didn’t face the Bruins once all season, not even when he was trapped on Long Island. Backup Mike Smith got the call during a tight 2-1 Bruins win on March 3.

So the Bruins did outscore Tampa 15-8, but that was mostly because of Dan Ellis’ problems.

History: By sheer crappy luck most of the rivalries brimming with hate and history were completed in the first two rounds. The Habs and Bruins beat up on each other for seven games before Boston moved on to gain redemption over Philadelphia, the Canucks finally and narrowly killed their demons that live in Chicago, and last night’s Game 7 was the culmination of yet another Sharks/Red Wings slugfest.

This series has the pieces in place to be highly entertaining, or at least let’s hope so after we were all able to catch up on some sleep during the second round. But there’s little to point at in terms of an incident that could act as a catalyst for future punching and head smashing. I guess we can just hope Steve Downie’s intellect is still low enough to make him believe that taking on Zdeno Chara is a wise decision.

For those keeping score at home, this is the second Tampa Bay series preview that’s proudly featured a dose of Downie being Downie.

The case for Tampa Bay: The phrase “scoring depth” is bounced around a lot once the calendar flips to May, but that’s where the primary battle ground could lie in this series. And it’s a battle that Tampa Bay should win given the emergence and continued brilliance of their third line featuring Dominic Moore, Sean Bergenheim, and Downie.

Bergenheim’s playoff numbers can only be duplicated if you customized the former Islander and threw him into NHL ’94 with offsides and icing turned off. Consider for a moment Bergenheim’s body of work since he started getting a regular NHL shift four years ago. Since 2007-08 he’s averaged 12.25 goals per season while playing in a combined 280 games, and this year he scored 14 goals over 80 games.

Now over just his past eight games Bergenheim has scored seven goals, putting him halfway to his total for the entire season. He’s the goal-scoring leader amongst players still active in the playoffs.

Here’s a little more Bergenheim insanity courtesy of Tampa Bay’s official site:

Bergenheim’s seven goals in the playoffs are the third-most in a single postseason since 2000-01 among players who had 15 or fewer goals scored in the regular campaign.

The case for Boston: But enough about secondary scoring. How about some primary scoring, something the Bruins could struggle with while Patrice Bergeron’s head is still ringing. My grandmother once asked me what sport the Toronto Maple Leafs play, but I’m pretty sure even she knows the Bruins will be telling us next to nothing regarding the status of Boston’s leading scorer.

The key for Boston as usual lies in size and sheer aggression, a traditional Bruin advantage that disappeared briefly against Montreal, and then came back to manhandle Philadelphia. We saw what happened to Steven Stamkos when his introduction to playoff hockey was getting drilled by Brooks Orpik back in Game 1 against Pittsburgh. A player who scored 45 goals in the regular season then didn’t score his first playoff goal until a two-goal outburst in Game 5, and he was held off the scoresheet entirely in five of the seven games against Pittsburgh.

That same brute force and rugged physicality needs to make its presence known for Boston early in this series, especially in the absence of Bergeron.

Regular season statistical comparison:

  • 5-on-5 GF/GA ratio: Tampa Bay 0.99 (18th), Boston, 0.95 (19th)
  • PP: Tampa Bay 26.5% (6th), Boston 16.2% (20th)
  • PK: Tampa Bay 83.8% (8th), Boston 82.6% (16th)
  • Goal differential: Tampa Bay +0.08, Boston, +0.62

Key matchup: The combined age of Dwayne Roloson and Tim Thomas is 78, meaning that if we hopped into the HOTH hockey time machine (Lewis sleeps in that thing every night) and fused them into one person to make Dwayne Timloson, our new creation has lived through some historic events. Heck, in just the year Timloson was born construction of the Golden Gate Bridge commenced, the original version of King Kong premiered, Adolf Hitler was declared Chancellor of Germany, the Loch Ness monster was allegedly sighted for the first time, and beer was legalized in the United States.

So yeah, these guys are pretty damn old, but they’re also pretty damn good, and they’ll be the focal point of this series. Early in the Montreal series Thomas looked somewhat vulnerable, but that didn’t last long and now he’s allowed two of fewer goals in seven of his 11 playoff starts. Meanwhile, Roloson still leads the playoffs in GAA and save percentage.

Prediction: With even Milan Lucic finally starting to come around after scoring two goals in Game 4 of the Flyers series to bust a 10-game drought, all of Boston’s top performers not named Tomas Kaberle are playing at their peak. The difference is that Tampa Bay’s aren’t (see: Stamkos, Simon Gagne), and as entertaining as the Bergenheim narrative is, he’s a living, breathing statistical anomaly that’s destined to regress.

And that’s why I’d like a fresh helping of Boston in six, please. What say you, angry hockey fans?