Bruins host Lightning in Eastern Conference Final opener

The Sports Network
5/14/2011 4:59:01 PM
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(Sports Network) - The best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals will get underway tonight in Boston, as the Bruins host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 at TD Garden.

The third-seeded Bruins are in the conference finals for the first time since 1992 after exacting revenge in the last round against Philadelphia. Boston swept the Flyers in this year's conference semifinals after blowing a 3-0 lead to Philadelphia in the same round last spring.

Meanwhile, this is fifth-seeded Tampa's second trip to the East finals in franchise history. The only other time the Lightning made it this far was in 2004, when they went on to win the club's only Stanley Cup title.

Like Boston, the Bolts are well-rested after completing a sweep of Washington in the conference semifinals. The last game of the Tampa series was on May 4, while the Bruins ended their set against Philadelphia on May 6.

Boston washed away the bad taste from last spring's playoff exit by simply dominating Philly in the conference semis this time around, sweeping the Flyers in four games and outscoring them by a 20-7 margin over the course of the series.

Despite the short series against the Flyers, Bruins forward David Krejci still managed to record four goals and nine points in the four games. Boston would like its top centerman to be just as productive in this series, especially after fellow pivot Patrice Bergeron suffered what is being called a mild concussion in Game 4 against Philadelphia.

The 25-year-old Bergeron apparently sustained the damage when Flyers forward Claude Giroux hit him in open ice early in the third period of Boston's 5-1 series-clinching victory. Bergeron, who has a history of concussions, is expected to miss at least Game 1 and that likely means Tyler Seguin will make his NHL playoff debut in the conference finals.

Seguin was the second overall pick in the 2010 draft and had 11 goals and 11 assists in 74 games as a rookie this year. The 19-year-old has been a healthy scratch for all of Boston's 11 postseason games in 2011.

Bergeron is leading all Bruins with 12 points (2 goals, 10 assists) in this year's playoffs. Krejci, Brad Marchand and Nathan Horton are all tied for the club lead with five goals apiece.

Boston is averaging 3.36 goals per game in this year's playoffs, placing them second behind Tampa Bay. The Bruins have also allowed just 24 goals in 11 games this postseason, tying them with the Lighting for the NHL lead with just 2.18 goals surrendered per game.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas has a lot to do with Boston's stingy play this postseason, as does the sturdy defensive corps, which is led by Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara. Thomas, who won the Vezina Trophy in 2009 and is a finalist for the award again this year, is 8-3 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 11 playoff games this spring.

Chara, Boston's captain, is a mammoth weapon on the blue line for the Bruins and he is leading the club with a plus-11 rating this postseason. He also has two goals and two assists.

Boston's biggest concern heading into the conference finals is the club's inability to score consistently on the power play. The Bruins are just 2- for-37 in the postseason with the man advantage, but both of those goals came in the final two games against Philadelphia.

Just by getting into the second round of the playoffs, Tampa Bay has ensured itself of its best playoff run since winning it all in 2004.

Tampa's Guy Boucher, a rookie NHL coach, helped his troops frustrate Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals in the conference semifinals. The Lightning made a habit out of taking the early lead and holding on for close wins in claiming all four meetings. Overall, Tampa outscored the Caps by a meager 16-10 margin over the four contests.

Of course, Tampa's loaded offensive attack is the club's strong suit, but Boucher also has his club playing excellent team defense, especially after they have taken the lead. Overall, the Bolts have surrendered 24 goals in 11 playoff games this spring.

The Lightning have also exploded for 38 goals in those 11 postseason tests, averaging a playoff-best 3.46 goals per game.

Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, who were both big parts of Tampa's championship team in 2004, have been Tampa's most lethal offensive weapons during the current playoff run.

St. Louis is tops on the team this spring with 13 points and is second in goals with six. Lecavalier has added five goals and seven assists

While the offensive production from St. Louis and Lecavalier is expected, Tampa is also getting scoring from some more unlikely sources on its third line. Sean Bergenheim is pacing the club with seven goals and his linemate Steve Downie is tied for second on the team with 12 points (2g, 10a). Third- line centerman Dominic Moore also has two goals and six assists.

Second-line centerman Steven Stamkos, however, has been somewhat of a disappointment so far in the playoffs. After finishing second in the NHL with 45 goals and fifth in the league with 91 points during the regular season, Stamkos has just six points (4g, 2a) in the playoffs.

Stamkos' linemate Teddy Purcell has one goal and 10 assists, while fellow winger Simon Gagne has two goals and five helpers. All of Gagne's point came in the first round win over Pittsburgh, as he suffered a concussion in Game 1 against Tampa and missed the remainder of the series.

Gagne hasn't played since April 29, but he is expected to be ready for the opener of the conference finals.

Outside of the club's loaded offensive arsenal, goaltender Dwayne Roloson has been Tampa's strongest asset in this postseason. The 41-year-old was acquired by Lightning GM Steve Yzerman in a trade with the New York Islanders in January and has paid dividends for his new club.

Roloson is 8-3 with a 2.01 GAA and a .941 save percentage in this postseason and has won seven straight decisions since Tampa fell behind three-games-to- one in the opening round against Pittsburgh.

The Lightning have been deadly on the power play in the playoffs, scoring 12 times on 45 opportunities with the man advantage for a 26.7 percent success rate.

Tampa's success on special teams has also carried over to the penalty kill, as the club has stopped the opposition from scoring on the man advantage 51 out of 54 times (94.4 percent) this postseason.

Boston, which will also host Game 2 of this series on Tuesday, is 4-2 on home ice in this year's playoffs after going 22-13-6 at TD Garden during the regular season.

Tampa was 21-14-6 as the road club this year and is 5-1 as the visiting team in the 2011 postseason.

The Bruins have lost their last two trips to the conference finals since the club last made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 1990.

Although Tampa and Boston have never met in the postseason, the Bruins did take three out of four from Tampa Bay this year and outscored the Lightning by a combined 15-8 margin. The Bolts' lone victory came in the season-series opener in Tampa on Nov. 22.

Thomas was 3-0 with a 1.67 GAA and .950 save percentage in three games against the Lightning this season. Roloson did not face the Bruins with either the Islanders or Lightning this year, but he is 5-2-2 with a 1.97 GAA and a .941 save percentage in nine career tests against them.

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