Playoff picks: Previewing the Bruins-Tampa Bay conference final from both sides of the ice

By S. Bradley

This is the first of numerous collaborations between TheBruinsBlog.net and Jon Jordan of Kukla’s Korner.

The Tampa Bay Lightning may be a bigger surprise participant than the Boston Bruins as an Eastern Conference Final participant and most pundits will undoubtedly give the Bruins the edge in the upcoming showdown between the two.

But these two clubs have followed an eerily similar path to get to where they are today.

Consider:

Identical regular season records of 46-25-11 for 103 points.

Seven-game battles in the opening round of the playoffs necessitating significant comebacks, with Boston down 2-0 to begin their series with Montreal and Tampa Bay having to rally back from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh.

Clean, four-game sweeps of their higher-seeded second round opponents in Philadelphia for the Bruins and top-seeded Washington for the Lightning.

The stage, then, is set for breaking down a series between two teams that will each pose the biggest threat the other has seen to this point, with a shot to vie for the Stanley Cup on the line.

From a position-by-position view, to kick off our collaboration on the upcoming series, here’s how this one shapes up, in the eyes of myself on the Bruins’ side of things and Jon Jordan of Beasts of the Southeast at Kukla’s Korner.

Forwards

Tampa Bay

For the Lightning, the biggest strength up front so far this postseason has been the well-rounded contribution they have received. The big names have all done their part offensively, with Martin St. Louis leading all playoff scorers leaguewide with 13 points, Vincent Lecavalier just behind at 5-7-12 and Steven Stamkos proving to be a quick postseason study, coming through with a pair of key goals in the Washington series after a playoff debut against Pittsburgh that was uncharacteristically unspectacular, for the most part. But it is the play of several depth forwards that has defined Tampa Bay’s success in the playoffs to this point and just may define the rejuvenation of this franchise overall as well.

Sean Bergenheim’s seven goals gives him a share of the overall NHL postseason lead. Steve Downie ranks third in scoring for the Lightning with a pair of goals and 12 points and remains a nuisance for the opposition. Teddy Purcell ranks just behind Downie at 1-10-11. The two-way game of Dominic Moore is perfectly suited for playoff time and Nate Thompson has evolved into an effective, grinding shutdown center. Ryan Malone has showed a penchant for the clutch tally and Simon Gagne’s proven playoff prowess was just hitting its stride once again before an upper-body injury in game one of the Washington series put him on the shelf for games two-four. Adam Hall adds a veteran presence and is another workhorse in the Lightning stable.

Beyond the regulars, youngsters Blair Jones, Mattias Ritola and Dana Tyrell are ready to step in at any time and Jones did just that effectively when Gagne was lost, playing limited but impactful minutes for the Bolts. In total, Jones has dressed three times in these playoffs, Tyrell four times and Ritola once.

Gagne/By S. Bradley

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