They’ve been down this road three prior times during this post-season, tonight though the Lightning down 3-2 in the series hosts the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, what essentially is the biggest game of the year for them – win it, and there will be a Game 7, lose it and it’s an early trip to the golf links.
Tonight’s setting is all too familiar though for the boys in blue. Having had their backs against the wall three times against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarter-finals, the Bolts responded, winning that series 4-3.
But as we all know, Boston is not Pittsburgh and it’s an entirely different game. The Lightning is confident and facing elimination doesn’t scare them – but, to rely on their earlier elimination game wins against Pittsburgh isn’t something they can do against Boston.
“We are not scared of this situation,” Marty St. Louis said. “It’s an opportunity, and we are going to embrace it and go after it.”
“I don’t think you can draw on similarities between teams. I mean, we’re playing a different team. It’s a different story. We’re not trailing by two, we’re trailing by one. And do-or-die games or games where you need to make sure that you’ve got the energy, which you will, because it’s do-or-die, but I think a lot more important is that you need to be poised,” said Guy Boucher upon the Bolts return on Tuesday to Tampa.
The Lightning owned the first period of Game 5 – they did everything right and could do no wrong. They came out of the box very strong, made the plays, and maintained puck possession so much so that they held Boston hostage without a shot for over 12 minutes. More importantly they were poised until the bottom fell out in the second period when they couldn’t cash in on numerous opportunities.
“I think yesterday [Monday] the first period, we were really poised. We played really good. And we could have scored two or three goals. And we didn’t. But I think that second period, after the power plays, that we didn’t score, probably irritated a few of our players. And we started to drift off in our five-on-five game, just for a little while, but it cost us,” said Boucher.
The one common factor between facing elimination against the Penguins and now the Bruins is being familiar with the situation.
“I think it’s the same approach going into those games, do-or-dies. You know, if you feel it’s do or die the whole game you’re not going to execute. You gotta focus on the process and the result, that’s at the end of the game. See what happens.
“But if you focus on the process and you are calm about it, that means you’re going to execute. You give yourself a chance. And that’s what we’re looking at.”
Giving the Bolts the chance to win tonight will be goaltender Dwayne Roloson who gets the nod between the pipes following a seat on the bench in Game 5, in which backup Mike Smith was the surprising starter.
Smith who was making his first career playoff start had appeared in just one prior playoff game and that came in Game 4, when he relieved Roloson stopping all 21 shots he faced and picked up the win in the comeback victory.
Returning though to Roloson shouldn’t come as a shocker despite the play of Smith.
“He [Roloson] was the guy that took us here, and that’s how I felt before last game; but like I said, I felt like it was time to give him a little breather.”
“At the same time I felt that Smitty played really well. So it’s a perfect situation to put Smitty in. If something were to go wrong in the previous game, put a new goaltender in for a do-or-die, I don’t think it would have been a good moment for anybody. So this is a perfect situation. He’s going to be the only rested guy in the two teams,” said Boucher.
Roloson despite a 4.43 GAA and a .854 save percentage in this series, Roli is 6-0 in Stanley Cup playoff elimination games. In those elimination games, he owns a 1.50 GAA with a .951 save percentage. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Roloson is bidding tonight to become just the second player in NHL history to win each of his first seven playoff elimination games, as he would join only Chico Resch.
The Lightning know all too well what Roloson brings to the ice and knowing that he’ll be in goal should be a confidence boost.
“I think both goaltenders have played tremendous for us throughout these Playoffs. I think that position is a big reason why we are where we are. We confident that we can come in and play our game and give ourselves a great chance,” said St. Louis.
Relying on Roloson to take them to Game 7 isn’t enough. The Bolts need their top players to produce, they need their power-play to come alive and they’ll need to open fire on Tim Thomas like never before.
The Lightning’s power play, which had been strong in the first two playoff rounds, has struggled against the Bruins, going 2-for-18, including 0-for-4 (with four shots) in Game 5 and is 0-for-9 in the last three games of the series.
For most of the playoffs, the Bolts bottom two lines have provided the majority of the scoring via their grit and tenacity. Sean Bergenheim, the NHL leading goal scorer with nine is questionable for tonight’s game after sustaining an undisclosed injury in the first period of Game 5.
Asked about an update on Bergenheim Boucher said, “We’ll have to see. I’ll go to church, I think.”
Boucher though won’t put any more additional pressure on his top players to produce – he says it falls on everybody.
“I hate to point guys out and say it’s you’ve got to be the guy and you’ve got to be the guy. Everybody’s been the guy with us at one moment or another. So tomorrow, it’s a team thing. It can’t be one guy taking all this pressure on his shoulders.It’s everybody has got to lift a load together, and we’ll see who is going to come out big tomorrow, but somebody will.”
The Bolts power-play has been missing in action and after outshooting the Bruins in the past two games, and spending so much time in the offensive zone on the power-play something has got to give – but then again, you can’t always fault the Bolts – the Bruins have done an outstanding job on the penalty-kill.
“We actually did very well on the power play, just couldn’t score. So sometimes just a matter of little details. A few instances where we get a shot, and other instances where there’s other plays we wanted to make that we didn’t do,” said Boucher.
“Last night [Monday] the power play was disappointing. We could have pulled away, maybe, get a two-goal lead. We didn’t. We didn’t do the job. And I’m sure we’ll address that and get it turned around tomorrow,” said St. Louis
“Just a little more poise. I think we’re poised in shots, but I think they come hand in hand. If we get a little poise, we’ll open some more shots. So we have to take those shots. Once we have the shots we have to take and we can’t have another play.”
Thomas has been outstanding throughout the post-season and specifically at times during this series. Boston Coach Claude Julien said he doesn’t want the team relying on Thomas, but yet it seems that they have done just that until they find ways to turn their game around.
“You don’t want to rely on your goaltender. He’s an important part of our team, and it’s nice to be able to rely on him, but you don’t want to go into the game relying on him. But it’s also nice to know that he’s a very reliable goaltender. Now it’s up to us to pick up the slack a little bit.”
“I know our team, even as a whole, when you look at the game itself, it wasn’t our best game. But you know, sometimes it’s about finding ways to win, and that’s what we did tonight, without maybe playing our best game. So we need our best game next game if we plan on winning that one.
Quote of the Day
“We’re still trying to figure out the Tim Thomas enigma. He’s making miracles. I guess we’re going to have to come up with some miracles too.” – Guy Boucher, on his thoughts entering Game 6 tonight.
Lightning Nutz and Boltz
Special Teams: The Lightning have the sixth-ranked power-play in the postseason at 22.2% (second among teams still active in postseason play) after converting 14 of 63 opportunities. Its 14 PPGs are tied for second-most among all postseason teams. Its five opposing PPGs allowed thus far in the postseason are the fewest among any club still active in postseason play, as the Bolts also boast the second-ranked PK in the postseason at 93.2% (first among teams still active in postseason play), despite facing the second-most shorthanded situations of all playoff teams with 73.
A Little of this and that: The Lightning are 8-2-0 when scoring the game’s first goal, which accounts for a share of the most wins among all playoff teams when scoring first. The Bolts have lit the lamp first in all but six of their 16 games thus far in the 2011 playoffs. They enter tonight having scored the first goal of the game in eight of their past 10 contests, in which they have a 7-3-0 record in that span.
The Bolts has been outshot in 10 of its 16 games thus far in the 2011 playoffs and is one of three teams among those still active in the postseason (Boston and Vancouver) with a negative shot differential (471 SF – 533 SA = -62). Despite that, they’re 7-2-1 in post-season play when outshot by their opponent, accounting for the second-most wins (Boston – 9) among all playoff teams when recording fewer shots than the opposition.
Ouch: The Lightning boast three of the league’s top five shot blockers in the postseason. Eric Brewer is second among all skaters in the 2011playoffs with 47 behind Douglas Murray of the Sharks, while Victor Hedman is third with 44. Mattias Ohlund ranks fourth, also with 44. Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg is fifth, with 44 as well.
The Lightning are also second among all playoff teams in team blocked shots with 303 behind San Jose (338), including 134 at home (third-most among all playoff teams behind Vancouver (146) and San Jose (180).
Interesting Tidbit: According to Elias Sports Bureau, Smith’s start in Game 5 marked the first time in exactly 12 years to the day since a goaltender age 29 or older last made his starting playoff debut in the Conference Finals… The goaltender who previously accomplished that feat prior to Smith was none other than Dwayne Roloson, who started Game 1 of the 1999 Conference Finals in place of the injured Dominik Hasek.
2011 Eastern Conference Finals Remaining Schedule
* 7: Fri., 5/27 8 p.m. @ Boston VERSUS, CBC, RDS, WFLA-970
* if needed
For more info: Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins
Enjoy this article? Click the ‘subscribe’ link at the top of this article and sign up to receive email updates when new articles are posted. Follow Althea on Twitter