BOSTON – Typically, the only teams that can roll out a Steven Stamkos or Vinny Lecavalier on a fourth line are international tournament entries or All-Star squads.
That doesn’t stop Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher from getting his star players on the ice with his pluggers whenever he can.
By dressing 11 forwards, Boucher forces his team to be alert to sudden line changes and extra shifts.
“You’ve just got to focus. Even just line changes, we have to make sure we’ve got the right guys, who’s playing what position,” said Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone. “Guys are jumping all over, playing center and wing. All year we’ve kind of dealt with it, so especially in the playoffs, you’ve got to make sure you take care of those little details.
“I think coach definitely keeps us on our toes. But we’re used to it now, so it’s no big deal.”
The Lightning, who head into tonight’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final up 1-0 in the series, might be used to it. That doesn’t mean that teams like the Bruins, who only faced the Lightning four times in the regular season, and not at any point between March 3 and the start of this series, are necessarily ready for it.
While it didn’t affect the scoreboard Saturday in Game 1, the Bruins – even with the second change on home ice – weren’t able to avoid having their fourth line of Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille sometimes on the ice against Stamkos or even Martin St. Louis. Campbell said today that while his line’s alertness has to be even higher than usual, he and his mates relish the challenge.
“The match-up’s tough because they have 11 forwards dressed. They’re going to mix in one of the top guys usually with that fourth line,” said the center at the TD Garden, where Game 2 will be played. “I mean that’s fine for us. We’re ready to do the job and you just have to be a little more aware when you’re on the ice. Those guys are great players for a reason. So you have to be aware of that. But that’s not to say we should change our game in any way. We have to play hard and compete as we have been, but just be a little more mindful when they’re on the ice.”
Boucher’s lineup allows for him to put a star on his fourth line and also put together a “super line” now and then of St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier. That means that if Zdeno Chara isn’t on the ice, the Bruins’ other defensemen have to up their game. Other than Campbell, most of the other Bruins are downplaying the effects of the line changes.
“You don’t pay too much attention to it during the game,” said defenseman Andrew Ference. “You just kind of take a check to see who’s on the ice. Lines get mixed up all the time. Especially with power plays and penalty kills the way they were spaced out last night. So the lines were getting a bit mixed up for both teams just due to those situations.”
“I think the alertness always has to be there no matter if teams have set lines or not,” Julien said. “And that’s something that shouldn’t really change our focus on our game.
“And I think right now it’s so important we really focus on our game, and for some reason everybody seems to think that we have to adjust to them. We don’t believe that. We have our game. We have on your team. We’ve gotten this far. We believe in what we do.”
The Bruins have gotten this far on their own merits, but they’ve obviously had to adjust some to their opponent – whether it was limiting James van Riemsdyk’s chances after his wild Game 1 for Philadelphia or attacking Montreal’s bottom four defenseman with a better forecheck. Matching up against “super lines” and star-studded fourth lines might become a necessity for the Bruins to get back in and eventually win this series.