BOSTON – Tampa Bay rookie head coach Guy Boucher spent just one season in the Montreal Canadiens’ organization prior to taking over the Lightning.
From the way his Lightning team approached the physical aspects of tonight’s showdown with the Bruins at TD Garden, you would’ve thought he’d been with the Habs a lot more over the last several years.
Most of the Lightning players seemed as light as a feather whenever they made contact with a Bruins counterpart, and even when veteran Eric Brewer finally dropped the gloves with Milan Lucic in the second period the newly acquired defenseman looked more interested in hugging than swinging.
“They like to dive and try to create calls,” said forward Brad Marchand after the Bruins’ 2-1 win. “But the refs kind of notice that and they said they saw it so it didn’t really affect the game a whole lot.”
In the end, the Lightning’s attempts to knock the Bruins off their game had the reverse effect and might’ve exposed Tampa Bay’s inability to play playoff-style hockey against a seasoned team like the Bruins.
“All I can say is it kind of works in our favor. You look at all the games that have happened like that, we get excited at those games, and I know the fans do too,” said Lucic.
Trying to outfight and outhit this Bruins team right now fails like anyone’s attempt to out-crazy Lady Gaga’s wardrobe. It especially doesn’t work if you only go in part of the way. If you took the sweaters off the Lightning players on the ice tonight, you might’ve thought they had names like Kostitsyn, Lapierre and Plekanec. That’s how much the diving, ducking, cheap-shotting, Lightning resembled the Canadiens teams of recent years.
Tampa Bay would-be Tapa tough guy Steve Downie led the way among the floppers and agitators. He flew 10 feet across the blue line after brushing past Shawn Thornton on one play.
Later, he thought it would be wise to jab at Gregory Campbell’s head through the net with his stick blade while the Boston center tried to get up out of the the blue paint after a whistle. Downie then conveniently hid behind a linesman as Thornton tried to get at him. The lasting image of Thornton standing in the corner of the rink with his gloves off awaiting Downie or Pavel Kubina’s acceptance of an invitation to dance later in that break in the action pretty much said it all for Tampa’s effort.
“I was fine with it. I wasn’t that upset,” Thornton said of the aborted attempt to fight. “I felt like [Kubina] just kept hanging around, mouthing off. I had 18,000 people staring at me, so I felt I had to address it, that’s all.”
The Lightning, who came into the night with just 16 fighting majors to their credit, acted as though they wanted to play Bruins- or Flyers-styled hockey without a Lucic, Thornton, Scott Hartnell or Daniel Carcillo in their lineup. And when it came time for someone to step up and throw down, all the Lightning got was Brewer’s lame attempt to hang onto Lucic like he was learning to skate.
Lucic took an ill-advised roughing call prior to the fight, which on top of Nathan Horton’s retaliatory trip killed a Bruins power play and put them short two men. The Bruins killed off the disadvantage and for the rest of the night managed to avoid any extracurricular activity that would’ve cost them any man-power.
Campbell hasn’t skated in the NHL playoffs yet in his career, but he figures a game like tonight’s gave him a preview of what it will be like to battle in the postseason and how much discipline it will take to succeed.
“I’m sure that that was their game plan, to try to suck us into penalties. Going into the playoffs here, that’s probably what it’s going to be a lot of,” said the fourth-line pivot. “Most teams are going to try to bait us into taking those penalties. Once the playoffs roll around, you have to play on the edge but you can’t cross that line. And I thought we did a good job of that tonight.”
If this victory and the two prior this over Tampa Bay didn’t already do it, Boston’s victory in the physical aspects of the match-up with the Lightning tonight proved that right now there are only two Eastern Conference teams that can legitimately be classified as postseason threats.
For the Lightning to get back into the mix, they’re going to have to learn to go about their physical play honestly or get their hands on Montreal’s guidebook to underhanded and unsportsmanlike play.