Here’s a guest post written by Anthony Kwetkowski of Bruins Network where he takes on several areas of the Bruins-Lightning matchup and gives his thoughts on what could happen. The B’s are up 1-0 in the best-of-seven series, but things can change quickly. Our thanks to AK for contributing this piece.- KL
Style of Play:
As opposed to the Carolina Hurricanes, knocked off by Boston in five games, Tampa plays with similar speed, but also more precision and skill. Tampa, while able to play a similar run and gun style to Carolina, thrives along the boards, working the puck inwards toward the attacking zone. In certain cases, this style will work with and against Boston— I’ll elaborate. For some of Boston’s slower players, Zdeno Chara and Nick Ritchie, Carolina’s runs and gun style really seemed to overwhelm and render them ineffective at times.
This precision style has a chance to be a better matchup for Chara and Ritchie because of their positioning and size. Tampa, as they work the puck inwards from the boards, will have to work a bit harder to get the puck through the likes of someone like Chara who’s as positionally sound as they come. Ritchie, who was simply ineffective against Carolina, is looking for a rebound series as he’s slated to play in Game One. He’s not nearly as sound as Chara, but he does possess good reflexes and hand-eye coordination, which might help him be effective in this series. Not saying these players will prevail, but I definitely see the line of thinking from Boston by inserting Ritchie again right now.
In terms of pure, natural skill and talent, Tampa usually receives the nomination over Boston in these categories, but I think it’s closer than some suggest. While Tampa obviously has the ultra-skilled types in Kucherov, Stamkos*, Point, Hedman, Sergachev, Cirelli and more, Boston has their own ultra-skilled types in Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, McAvoy, Krug, Krejci and now Kase. Tampa’s deadline additions, Coleman and Goodrow, will certainly be useful in their quest to compete with Boston’s middle-six types in Coyle, Bjork, DeBrusk, Kase and Ritchie. However, I think Boston is actually on par with Tampa is regards to skill, they just possess skill in different areas.
Boston obviously has their heralded “perfection line” leading the charge, but what about David Krejci? He was arguably Boston’s best player in the Carolina series and that bodes very well for them. Krejci, in my opinion, has been playing like a No. 1 center throughout the playoffs thus far and that presents a problem for Tampa. Though shutting down Bergeron’s line can heavily influence a series, that’s not nearly as pressing if lines two and three are rolling on all cylinders. Krejci and Coyle have both been dominate, so that presents quite the mismatch for Tampa as Boston’s redundancy plan is currently in full effect.
With a defensive core largely compiled with players standing over 6’1”, Tampa has more size than Boston does. This is definitely part of the reasoning to roll with Ritchie in the lineup to start as well. I don’t think size is as important in this series as some are suggesting, Boston will have their hands full— they can handle it. How? Well, the same way they’ve been handling it, by grinding and hustling by the likes of Coyle, DeBrusk, Kuraly, Clifton, Nordstrom, Wagner, Marchand and McAvoy. These players stood out in the Carolina series and possess the necessary elements to combat Tampa’s size.
Unfortunately for Boston, Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs in the middle of the Carolina series, citing personal and family reasons. Rask, who historically performs very well against Tampa, won’t be available for this series, leaving Jaroslav Halak as the No. 1 starter moving forward. While Halak ultimately got it done against Carolina, he needs to be sharper and has his work cut out for him against Tampa. I think Tampa definitely has the goaltending edge right now, especially since Halak was shaky and inconsistent against a lesser opponent in Carolina. I expect to see Tampa test Halak early and often, which might prove to be problematic in the series. Boston needs to try and limit the amount of rubber that Halak sees by clogging passing lanes and thwarting Tampa’s high-end precision plays.
Before Rask had opted out, I’d probably have decidedly picked Boston to win, but without him? I think there are concerns for goaltending. Could Halak return to mid-season form quicker than he’s on track for currently? That’s the million dollar question and if he does, then I think he can handle Tampa. It won’t be easy, though, especially if the teams have to play back-to-back games in G6 and G7. Goaltending aside, I think the Bruins have an overall edge to Tampa and will be performing better than some are giving them credit for. Remember, this is two seasons in a row now that the Columbus Blue Jackets have given Tampa fits. Tampa ultimately won this time around, but that high-end grinding game really wears them down.
Columbus plays a style similar to Boston, but with less talent and less efficiency, in my opinion. That’s why Boston beat a better Columbus team last year in six games. These grinding elements are persistent in Boston’s game and Tampa will absolutely have their hands full. If Boston can play to their potential and fire on all cylinders, I predict they will ultimately defeat the Tampa Bay Lighting.
*Steven Stamkos has been battling some injuries in recent months and who knows what his availability will be. As of this moment, he’s not expected to be ready.