BOSTON – As they practice and watch video during the week-long vacation before their Eastern Conference Final series with Tampa Bay starts Saturday, the Bruins haven’t been mesmerized by the wondrous offensive wizardry of perennial goal-scorers Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier.
In fact, the Bruins have expressed almost an undue appreciation for the Lightning’s would-be bottom six forwards.
It seems like Sean Bergenheim’s name has come up in almost every conversation that starts out talking about the Lightning’s “Big Three.” And Nate Thompson, a former Bruin, and Dominic Moore have been getting their share of chatter in media scrums all over Boston’s dressing room.
“All their forwards are pretty good,” said Bruins winger Shawn Thornton after today’s practice at the TD Garden. “You say top six, but Bergenheim, who’s classified as the bottom six, has seven goals. And Nate Thompson’s having a pretty good playoffs, too, and he’s technically supposed to be their 10th or 11th forward. I think they’re very strong up front, all around. But I think Philly was pretty strong up front too.”
Bergenheim has been a revelation with seven goals in 11 postseason games. The Lightning have also received eight points (2 goals) from Moore and three assists from Thompson. In some ways, the Tampa Bay bottom six – especially once Simon Gagne rejoins the top six – is better than the Bruins’ (especially without Patrice Bergeron centering the second line).
The Bruins’ conscious effort to stress that there’s more to the Lightning than their top three regular-season point producers is probably part a way for Boston to avoid looking like its disrespecting the fifth-seeded Lightning as a team, and part a way to make sure the Bruins don’t forget about the other players. It’s kind of like writing out your shopping list and then going through it in your head. The Bruins don’t want to concentrate too much on the marquee players and get burned by the grunts, the way Washington and Pittsburgh were in the previous two rounds.
“They’ve got a lot of great guys over there,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. “But you look at how they’re playing so far, and it seems to be their third and fourth lines are stepping up huge right now too. … When you have a team who has four lines that are playing like that, that’s a tough team to beat at playoff time. They do have some big superstars over that are very deadly every time they’re on the ice. But they’re playing so well right now because their whole team is going.”
Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who’s second by seven seconds to Zdeno Chara for the team lead in ice time, will be chasing around all the Lightning forwards a lot depending on how the best-of-seven series unfolds.
“They’re very opportunistic and their high-end scoring is terrific. … And their support guys are great too,” said Seidenberg, who used to bash heads with Tampa Bay a lot during his stints in Carolina and Florida. “They’ve got their third and fourth lines just working like crazy and going up and down hitting.”
The Bruins have been complimentary to those Lightning “high-end” scorers as well, but to a man they compare shutting those guys down to the job they did against the likes of Mike Richards and Claude Giroux in the last round. So when you figure the Bruins can slow down the cream of the crop, then the series could be determined by what happens down the depth chart for both clubs.
That could mean that when given some ice time, the likes of Thornton, Rich Peverley, Michael Ryder and Gregory Campbell are going to have to take advantage of their opportunities.