After the Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff run ended with a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the guys (and gal) at SB Nation Boston sent us some questions about the series and the Lightning to answer for their site. I sent my answers over, which were published here. Now Ryan Durling of SB Nation Boston answers my questions about how the Bruins won the series, how they can win the Stanley Cup, and how their team rose up from the dregs of the league to the present day.
CHARLIE BLACKWELL: How was Boston finally able to win the series? Did the experience of winning a Game 7 in the first round make a difference for the Bruins?
RYAN DURLING: In the games Tampa Bay won (and even in Game 2 when they didn't), Tampa was successfully able to stretch the Bruins defense and take them out of their game, much like the Montreal Canadiens did in the first round. When Boston stuck to its gameplan, they allowed just one goal in 180 minutes (Games 3, 5 and 7). The Bruins were able to control play by being physical against a smaller Tampa Bay team, ultimately wearing them down (see: Sean Bergenheim's absence in Games 6 and 7) and making Dwayne Roloson beat them, which the fatigued netminder just wasn't able to do.
CHARLIE: The Bruins had a better showing on special teams in this series than in the first two rounds, although they still had problems at times. When the power play and penalty kill were working, what were the Bruins doing that they hadn't done against Montreal and Philadelphia?
RYAN: It's cliche, but the Bruins success on special teams came from being more physical; on the power play, it came from getting bodies in front of the Tampa net and on the penalty kill it came from not allowing Tampa to do the same. The Bruins' sticks on the PK were more active in passing and shooting lanes (except for in game six, of course) and the team's increasing selflessness when it comes to blocking shots helped, too. But at the end of the day, the same game plan that Boston employed 5-on-5 - keeping Tampa to the outside - was the one that helped them out a man down, too.
RYAN: From a purely personnel standpoint, the Kessel trade is the obvious one - Tyler Seguin almost single-handedly won Game 2, after all. But the Thornton trade played an important role in a different way. Prior to Thornton's arrival in Boston, the Jeremy Jacobs-endorsed administration hadn't been willing to take big chances in signing or shipping premier talent. The Thornton trade didn't return much in the way of talent, and what it did return wound up fading away or getting hurt before leaving town, but it signaled a change in the front office's approach.
It's no surprise that not long after Thornton left, Peter Chiarelli, Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard arrived, and their arrival allowed the team to take chances on promising stars Kessel, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (all 2006 draft picks), to bring in Mark Recchi to mentor Patrice Bergeron and to give Tim Thomas a chance at the big league. Those names are now the core of a team that, little more than a year removed from the most humiliating playoff defeat in NHL history in decades, is now representing its conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
CHARLIE: Was stingy owner Jeremy Jacobs the reason Bruins fans seemed to dwindle over the years, or were there just not enough casual fans to go around with the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics all winning championships in the 2000s? What changes in the front office or in the NHL allowed the team to become successful again?
RYAN: The Chiarelli signing is the obvious one, but as I said above, the real caveat was the change in approach to dealing with high-profile players. Jacobs had a lot to do with the flaming out of the fanbase - as Boston's expatriate son Bill Simmons loves to point out - but New Englanders have very short attention spans, and Tom Brady's hair demands an awful lot of attention these days.
CHARLIE: Did Phil Esposito making a point of supporting the Lightning in this series bother long-time Bruins fans?
RYAN: As fans, you expect and want your front office to support the team they work for. Espo supporting the Bolts was never a problem. But the derisive and dismissive take on his feelings about the Bruins? Absolutely.
CHARLIE: How can the Bruins beat Vancouver and win the Stanley Cup?
RYAN: Shut down the power play and make the Canucks' top lines try to stop theirs. The Sedin twins have tallied a combined 37 points in these playoffs. They're also each a minus-four. Like the Lightning, the Canucks can score at will. Like the Lightning, the Canucks have phenomenal special teams. Like the Lightning, the Canucks have a goaltender who's rarely needed to be the best player on his team at any point in these playoffs. And like the Lightning, the Canucks don't backcheck. Certainly, Vancouver's a bigger and stronger team than Tampa Bay, but the Bruins had their way with the biggest, strongest team they've seen so far this postseason. But it's not without reason that the Canucks' power play and penalty kill are both best in the NHL these playoffs: they're remarkably well-coached, they know where their teammates are on the ice and they play a smart game. Anybody can be beaten, though, and this Bruins team didn't figure to get close to the Finals this year, so there's no reason to believe that they might not have one more surprise up their sleeves.
As an addendum, Claude Julien's going to have a tough decision on his hands regarding Tyler Seguin - they need somebody with his skill to open up the ice, especially on the power play, but with Raffi Torres doing his best Daniel Carcillo impressions these days, having Shawn Thornton in the lineup is something that could hugely benefit the team. I'm interested to see what he does. Normally I'd just say Danny Paille should get sent upstairs, but both he and Gregory Campbell, along with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly are needed on the PK.
CHARLIE: How big is the Bruins' window of contention? Are we likely to cross paths deep in the playoffs again in future years?
RYAN: There are lynchpins to the Bruins' future success. Marc Savard will probably retire. Brad Marchand is an RFA who has earned himself a big contract. Mark Recchi may retire. Tim Thomas may not ever be as good again as he's been this year. Michael Ryder may or may not be re-signed.
But the core - Chara, Bergeron, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Thornton, Lucic, Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, among others - are all in for another couple years and deep playoff runs have a way of making teams play better than they might otherwise be. Steven Kampfer will improve at the blueline and could make Tomas Kaberle expendable (if he hasn't already made himself expendable, that is). There is a lot of talent in the system - names like Jamie Arniel, Ryan Spooner, Jared Knight, Yury Alexandrov, Anton Khudobin and countless others - that will be able to make a difference sooner than later (especially Knight and/or Spooner). Boston still owns the tenth overall draft pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft from the Kessel trade - though I'd be unsurprised to see Chiarelli try to turn that into a second in 2011 and a conditional top-60 pick in 2012 after the Bruins shipped a bunch of picks out in trades over the last 18 months.