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5 Tidbits From Bruins-Lightning ECF Series Going Into Game 4

The resurgence of Michael Ryder was pivotal in Boston's Game 2 victory (Courtesy Charles Krupa, KansasCity.com)

Here are five thoughts on the Boston/Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Finals series thus far. The Bruins took a one-game lead following a 2-0 win in Game 3.

1. Size vs Skill.. vs. Heart

Through three games, this series is shaking out much like the opening round against Montreal for the Bruins. Boston has the edge in size, and have forced the physical play through a strong fore-check. On the other hand, the Lightning have proven they have enough fire-power to stay in any game through their victory in Game 1 and heart-wrenching comeback in Game 2.

So which will prevail, robust strength or dexterous skill and speed? Game 3′s result pushes us towards depth being the determining factor. At this point the series is made up of to many arbitrary factors. So I’m not sure, but I do like how both teams are playing. Neither Tampa Bay nor Boston is conceding anything, which is how the game should be played at this stage.

Game 1 analysis clearly has to be taken with the palpable caveat that the layoff led to a detrimental impact to Boston. Tomas Kaberle’s fatal giveaway, in the midst of Tampa Bay’s three-goal first period flurry, was indicative of that much.

Game 2 could have been over before it really started when Tampa Bay scored 13 seconds into the contest. The B’s were not deterred. Boston kept its composure and the team never faltered in their pressuring of Tampa Bay’s defensemen trying to clear the zone.

Famous director Quentin Tarantino once said he liked to think of his movie scenes as one prolonged build-up to a massive cinematic orgasm. His words, not mine. Anyway, the Bruins were creating chance after chance in the first period of Game 2. Julien instituted an aggressive fore-check and eventually his team forced a power play. Nathan Horton’s tip in on a Dennis Seidenberg blast with one second left on the penalty felt exactly like a Tarantino scene.

The Lightning countered with 6 seconds remaining in the opening period, and though the Bruins were deflated heading to the locker-room, they were persistent in carrying over their first period efforts into the second frame. You know happened next. Rookie forward Tyler Seguin had a virtuoso performance, and gives sports radio hosts and columnists 2 solid days of material (more on this later).

HOWEVER, this Tampa team is more skilled than the Canadiens and they refused to leave Boston with their tails between their legs. Frankly, Tampa’s frantic third period comeback was frightening, terrifying — and most of all admirable.

Lastly, Game 3 felt as if the Bruins came into Florida with three objectives: tempering the fervent crowd, controlling the pace, and creating opportunities at advantageous times. David Krejci’s early goal from Milan Lucic’s feed gave Boston an early lead. For the duration of the game, the Bruins played their typical dump and chase brand of hockey. Critics insinuate this style is the trademark of Coach Julien: Playing not to lose. Game 3 was quite the contrary, though. Julien’s players had timely chances, and were cognizant of their defensive responsibilities. The novocaine induced by Boston was a perfect recipe for victory.

2. Goaltending Ups and Downs

Tim Thomas has had an up-and-down series. He’s let some putrid goals get by him, although he continues to play big when it matters most. Just ask Vinny Lecavalier, who scored a soft goal through Thomas’ five-whole but then was stoned with a great left pad save late in Game 2.

In Game 3, Thomas was not tested through 2 periods. Watching the game, B’s fans knew an onslaught of shots were coming Thomas’ way in the 3rd period. Thomas was up to the task, stopping a Martin St. Louis back-handed attempt and a Lecavlier drive in succession to preserve the win.

At the other end of the spectrum, Boston chased yet another goaltender this post-season in Game 2. This time the victim was the sage, Dwayne Roloson. Roloson has been solid, but was the innocent bystander of shoddy defense and Tyler Seguin’s coming-out party. Game 3 saw an early defensive breakdown, leading to a point-blank opportunity for Krejci, which the B’s top center calmly capitalized on. With the game still in doubt, a late Andrew Ferrence drive squeaked passed Roloson. Again, blame can’t solely be placed on the Lightning net-minder in this instance as Boston’s Chris Kelly did a superb job shielding Roloson.

3. Teenage Wasteland Promise

Tyler Seguin’s ascension in Game 2 along with the  Game 3 comeback for assistant captain and second line stalwart Patrice Bergeron, created a good problem for Boston going forward. The dilemma, put simply, is the log-jam at the forward position. It’s a numbers game and someone had to go.

As much as it pains much of the B’s faithful, the odd man out was Shawn Thorton. Thorton is a popular player both in the locker-room and externally. He’s a media star-lite, and his effort is recognized by the TD Garden crowd. Even with that said, his value to the team is less than the other options.

Thorton’s line-mates, Danny Paille and Greg Campell, both give Boston paramount minutes killing penalties. And the previously maligned Michael Ryder is currently the leading candidate to receive the J.D. Drew Memorial Award, given to an overpaid player who stunningly lives up to their billing in the playoffs.

The wily veteran Mark Recchi has also been proposed to exchange his sweater for a suit, but he has played significant minutes on both special teams fronts this postseason. Subsequently, Thorton was the logical choice to be wearing street clothes.

Perhaps a more interesting question is how coach Claude Julien would distribute his glut at forward. Many fans and media-types are advised against breaking up the synergy between the Ryder-Kelly-Seguin line, which produced prolifically in Game 2. Julien obliged this notion, and that’s fair. The threesome did help produce the game-clinching goal in Game 3. Though, like I said before, Tampa Bay’s speed and skill is conducive with the Montreal match up in the first round. Don’t forget, it was the Peverley-Kelly-Ryder line that bolstered the scoring in Games 3 and 4 at the Bell Centre for Boston. Additionally, wouldn’t it make sense to match speed with speed?

After evaluating the circumstances and vacillating between an array of combinations, here is my preference for the four Boston lines:

Line 1: Horton-Krejci-Lucic

Line 2: Seguin-Bergeron-Marchand

Line 3: Peverley-Kelly-Ryder

Line 4: Campell-Recchi-Paille

Even with the production of the aforementioned Ryder/Seguin tandem, I feel Recchi’s role should be diminished as father time is catching up to him. Maybe giving Seguin the bump to the second line, in the Eastern Conference Finals nonetheless, alludes the proclivity towards a reaction rather then objectivity. On the other hand, pairing Bergy – the best two-way player Boston has – with The Kid mitigates risk because of Bergeron’s defensive discipline.

4. Closing the Claude Calamity

Claude Julien burying Seguin through the playoffs up until the Bergeron injury has to be questioned. Proponents of the move, like Kevin Paul Dupont of the Globe, will point to Seguin’s lackluster season, which gave no indication what transpired Tuesday night, in Game 2, was realistic. That’s fair…Sort of.

For a team that has had so many issues finding the back of the net, producing an even mediocre power play, and generating consistent scoring chances; it appears calling Seguin up at some point would have been deemed appropriate. Seguin’s performance Tuesday spawned words like “Game-Breaker,” well it’s confounding when someone with that potential is grounded. Additionally, people are reacting to this like it was all part of the plan. The thought process that Seguin needed to watch from afar in order to assist in his development is specious, because SEGUIN NEVER WOULD HAVE SEEN THE ICE IF BERGERON HAD NOT BEEN INJURED.

As Vince Vaughn excitedly exclaims in Wedding Crashers, “Erroneous! Erroneous on both accounts!”

Sure, the Bruins brass may have planned on Seguin being inserted into the lineup by chance of injury. That’s certainly plausible, after all, it’s hockey and injuries happen all the team. But from another player’s “development” perspective, it seems rather disingenuous..no?

And look, they’re here regardless. Julien choosing Ryder over Seguin was vindicated in the Montreal series. Fine. Secondly, they swept the Flyers. Seguin’s insertion to the lineup couldn’t have possibly improved that flawless upshot. The idea people are calling radio stations calling for Julien’s job is ludicrous.

Even with the antecedent paragraph all being true, Julien’s decisions are not autonomous. His choice to sit The Kid after scoring to close the gap to 3-1 at the end of the first period in Game 1 is particularly maddening. You have trepidation about exposing Seguin? Exposing him to what, exactly? THE BRUINS WERE LOSING. Seguin was the only Bruin with the ideology of a catalyst. He was skating arduously, and for him to be buried again following the lone bright moment for Boston was exasperating.

5. Taking A Step Back

I comprehend the vexing drama that surrounds the coaching and front office of the Boston Bruins. As I’ve written before, this stems from Bruins fans being a dying breed here in Boston. Their Pre-2004-Red Sox-Fan mind-set is both a gift and a curse. They care beyond any reasonable point of caring.

When things go poorly, every B’s fan feels compelled to grab their imaginary clip-board and state what the team should be doing. That’s fine, I get it, believe me I get it. But fans have to understand, their negativity floods onto the ice. Fans aren’t trying to wish any aspersions on this team, in fact, it’s quite the contrary. The passion clouds rationality and it’s a red flag that David Krejci is saying things like…

It’s nice to see fans rooting with us, rather than against us.

So I plead to you, Bruins fans, calm down and put it back in neutral. The incessant denouncement of every misfire – whether it be a player, coach, or front office executive – has to be thwarted. I’m on board with the fanatics, though I understand the other guys get paid too. Tampa Bay’s going to score some goals, Boston’s not going to go 6-6 on their power-play, and not everything is going to go according to plan. Only four teams make it to this point, and I think sometimes we lose sight of that accomplishment.

About Ryan Hadfield

Ryan Hadfield is the author of the weekly Sports Media Musings column at Sports Of Boston. Hadfield is known as one of the top sports media critics in Boston. He also contributes to Boston Sports Media Watch. In November 2011, Hadfield helped launch the new SoB Point Taken blog featuring his podcasts & musings on sports, media and culture. Follow Ryan on Twitter.

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