BOSTON – Among teams that reached the second round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs, Tampa Bay heads into its Eastern Conference Final series with the Bruins with the best power-play percentage.
The Lightning have converted on 12 of 45 power-play chances (a healthy number of opportunities) through 11 games. Martin St. Louis leads the way with three goals and a league-high seven power-play points, while Vinny Lecavalier is also among the leaders with five power-play points.
Meanwhile, the Bruins penalty kill has battled to a respectable 80.5 percent success rate (33-for-41) but now has to try to slow down the Lightning man-advantage without leading penalty-killing forward Patrice Bergeron. The veteran center is expected to miss one or two games at the start of the series due to a mild concussion suffered in the series-clincher last Friday against Philadelphia.
That puts more of a burden on players like Gregory Campbell, Chris Kelly and Daniel Paille to keep Tampa Bay from exploiting Boston’s penalties.
“Their parts are kind of … they move in and out. It’s tough to defend that when you have St. Louis sometimes playing on the point and then he’s down low,” said Campbell today on a team day off at the TD Garden. “So to have sort of a game plan is a little bit tougher than most teams. And they have a lot of weapons too. They have the one-timer from [Steven] Stamkos, and if you take that away – which most teams are now, especially after that 50-goal season that he had – they’ll just move it over to Lecavalier for his one-timer. So it’s tough being down a man and having to cover all those dangerous guys.”
Seventh in the league in team scoring during the regular season, the Lightning are saturating opponents with a league-best 3.46 goals per game in the postseason. Bruins head coach Claude Julien says Tampa Bay uses a lot of the same philosophy that works 5-on-5 on its power play.
“I think the one thing you don’t want to be is running around against this team because they will expose you on the power play. They move the puck quickly and like to jam pucks at the net,” said the coach. “A lot of it is what they do even 5-on-5. They will throw pucks at the net, they will move it around and they will try to jam the net, whether it’s stuffing it from the sides and getting some traffic in front. And if they are shooting it from the point, [there are] a lot of guys just heading towards the net. So they have skill, there is no doubt there, but they also have that killer instinct of taking those pucks to the net.”
Julien’s looking at several different options to make up for the minutes Bergeron usually munches shorthanded.
“There is no doubt David Krejci has been a pretty good penalty killer and obviously we have tried to, since we have a lot of penalty killers, tried to save him more for the offensive side of our game. We are able to come back with him after killing a penalty, his line has been coming out, stuff like that,” said Julien. “So you have to use David on the penalty kill and that’s things you have to adjust with. And Mark Recchi has been able to bail us out too in regards to that. So we are going to have to utilize certain guys.
“And depending on how many penalties we get too, Paille, Campbell can almost, when I say double shift, start it, get a rest and go back out there again. And maybe do a little bit more of it. So we are going to try to utilize our personnel as best we can in regards to that, make sure the penalty kill stays good, but at the same time, I think we want to make sure we have players doing the job and doing it properly.”
The Bruins might benefit from the absence of Pavel Kubina, who’s been out with an injury since early in Tampa Bay’s Washington series. But sniper Simon Gagne should be back in the mix up front. The Bruins already did a respectable job against Montreal’s top-10 power play in the first round, so this time around Boston should be up to the task.
“It’s not going to be any different than I think Montreal,” said Paille, who helped limit the Canadiens to just four 5-on-4 goals in the seven-game series. “I think they had a solid group and they scored some key goals for them. But usually the main thing for us is to keep it out of the net. They’ve got a lot of talent, they move the puck very well, they have great shots. We’ve just got to be aware of them and try to stop them as much as we can.”
The Bruins’ best bet would be to just stay out of the penalty box. Inevitably, however, there are going to be infractions, and the Bruins’ penalty-killers are going to have to play smart but aggressive to keep the Lightning’s shots to the perimeter. Some more all-world play from goaltender Tim Thomas will also come in handy.