This is the final in-series installment of my collaboration with Jon Jordan of Kukla’s Korner. Jon answers my questions with Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final just hours away.
MK: Now I know who the real “mind control” master in this series is: it’s you. You wrote that the Lightning’s “Big Three” had to come on strong in order to stave off elimination, and they did. Any chance you could tell a major newspaper or magazine to hire a writer who’s been self employed for the last 11 years?
Anyway, I asked you this after Game 4 and so I’ll do it again: can the Lightning do what they did in Game 6 again in Game 7 and take this series? Can the Lightning do anything 5-on-5 or will they need power play help to win?
JJ: To your first question, sure, I could press a big-time paper or magazine to staff such an individual but my mind control efforts to that end are going to be focused on melting the brains of someone who can finally make my dream of dumping the day job to go hockey full-time (as if it isn’t almost full-time already) for me. If I take care of that quickly enough this summer, I’ll jump into aiding your cause. (You were talking about yourself, no? Maybe you’re more of a humanitarian than I’m giving you credit for and are fighting the good fight for someone else. Hmm…) Submit a list of targets, so that I may study their thought patterns and identify weaknesses in the interim.
As for the Bolts, I don’t think it would be wise to head into Game 7 relying on power-play chances, nor do I think they’ll do so. Because they’ve proven capable of scoring at even strength in this series already.
Of the 19 (non-empty net) goals Tampa Bay has managed, 14 have come at even strength and five on the power play. Before Game 6, that ratio was 12-2. So, I think you have to look at the showing on Wednesday night as a bit of an aberration.
That being said, three power-play goals in any given game gives one team a damn good shot at winning and is almost a death knell for the other. Boston’s going to want to avoid penalty trouble at all costs, in my opinion, on the heels of what happened in Game 6. On the other side of things, the Lightning’s penalty kill has been great, still tops in the league at 92.3 percent and the Bruins are just 3-24 in this series with the man advantage. It’s cliché but special teams are key tonight and I would have to think that works against an aggressive Boston bunch – something they’ll have no choice but to work through.
The Lightning will obviously look to take advantage of any opportunities they get with the extra man but nobody’s leaning on any one aspect of their game to carry them at this point, I wouldn’t think.
MK: Let’s talk goaltending, because I know it’s a favorite topic of yours, especially when it comes to your hero, Mike Smith. Shouldn’t Smith get the start? Isn’t it impossible to say that Dwayne Roloson has been the better TB goaltender in this series? I thought the Lightning really won Game 6 in spite of Roloson and the Bruins were a bounce or two away from tying or winning the game because of it. Would Dr. Boucher dare make this move for Game 7? Would you?
JJ: Sounds like it’s going to be Roloson tonight and, as much as I like Mike Smith 2.0, I think it has to be. Roli’s still unbeaten in elimination games in his career (7-0) and, hell, if this were a game of craps, you’d keep on rolling (Heh, heh… Not to be corny or anything but… See what I did there?) until you bust, no?
I’d go with the proven commodity in Roloson, on the strengths of his body of work in these playoffs rather than what’s happened in a series like this one, which has been all over the place in so many areas and not just the goaltending department. The mighty Tim Thomas at Boston’s end wasn’t good in Game 6 either, you know. I expect both netminders will be far better tonight.
With that in mind, on Tampa’s side, if Roloson struggles early, the old swap-e-roo certainly wouldn’t be beyond Boucher – or any drastic measure, really, since we know that the Lightning have it in them to come back from significant deficits, as they did in Game 4, backstopped by Smith in relief.
Wouldn’t that make for some storyline, if it came to pass in a Tampa win tonight? All of a sudden, then, you could very easily be looking at a Stanley Cup finalist Lightning squad, led by Smith in goal, which nobody – and I mean nobody at all – could have predicted.
But there I go getting ahead of myself…
MK: Do you have an Eric Furlatt poster yet for your room? I bet Dr. Boucher does. Honestly, I don’t even know how this became a thing – the officiating in the NHL, in every game, is typically atrocious both ways. The Bruins had more power plays and both teams embellished their way to a couple calls. What’s your take on this whole thing?
JJ: Simply stated, exactly that.
I’m really tired of the hullabaloo surrounding the officiating which, yeah, has been bad in the playoffs, as it is in the regular season, as it has been forever now and the beat goes on… As you said, it’s horrible both ways and players and coaches on both sides know just that. I refuse to believe in the existence of linesmen and referees favoring one team over another intentionally, even Mr. Furlatt, Tampa’s new public enemy number one, for no good reason.
Sometimes, calls lean heavily in one direction or another. And sometimes there are some terrible ones in there as well. But you know what? Here comes a shocker: Most penalties actually do have some business being called! How about that? I know, it’s hard to believe.
Here’s my biggest beef: People that jump all over this sort of thing this time of year. Yeah, I get that everything’s magnified but, if you listen to local radio, you’ll hear the Johnny-come-lately fans calling in – not just here in Tampa but in any city – clamoring on and on about how badly this official or that has it in for the home team, with nothing to back it up. (Sometimes, even the host gets into the act – hey, if it fires up the audience, they did their job, right?) Maybe they’ll have numbers, like the 497-1 penalty ratio against the Lightning that Furlatt apparently employs because he hates the Tampa Bay area, Guy Boucher stole his girlfriend in elementary school, he’s a Calgary Flames fan deep down, bitter about ’04 or whatever… But numbers can be tossed around in a million different ways. Very few who speak about the tendencies of officials really know anything about them as individuals. It’s far more likely that these feeble-minded folks just think that everyone’s out to get their team and every penalty or non-call against is a glaring example of just how much their club gets crapped on.
It happens. Deal with it. That’s my take.
At the same time, I understand Boucher doing what he did (when asked, remember, he didn’t bring it up!!!) Maybe the added attention makes the officials think twice before they call a penalty against your club, maybe it doesn’t. And maybe it did in Game 6, actually, where things were pretty even. Bad, still, but even… It shouldn’t affect the zebras, of course, but maybe it does.
I hate this topic. Period.
MK: Bonus question: Before the series started you Tweeted about bringing chocolates to the game. Three games in Tampa attended in person by me, and I saw no chocolates. What gives?
JJ: Here’s the inside scoop: As you know, I’m not exactly a Lightning fan at heart. (I just work here.) That said, this run’s been a blast and I’ve covered this team long enough and been in the area even longer to where it’s been nice to see colleagues of mine and friends I’ve made in the organization in recent years enjoy such success.
When the Bolts were down 3-1 to Pittsburgh, before Game 5, a random series of events took place between myself and a couple of other local writers that included specific text messages, the re-arrangement of someone’s lucky pucks and my indulging in a handful of dark chocolate M&Ms. (Quite frankly, I just saw a bowl of candy-coated goodness and grabbed.) After the Lightning won that game, 8-2, a superstitious colleague insisted we all repeat as much of our pre-Game 6 undertakings as possible from then on and we all obliged. It work for eight straight games and then the Bruins won that Game 2 barnburner, so we stopped.
Alas, I discontinued my budding chocolate addiction (kicked it cold turkey too!) and you were deprived of taking part.
If the Lightning win tonight, I may send you an autographed pack to commemorate our working together. (It may not be equivalent to my very own copy of 100 Things Bruins Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, which you so kindly bestowed upon me, but call me a slacker. I haven’t written a book yet. Sorry.)