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2011 Stanley Playoffs Eastern Conference Final: Tampa Bay Lighting at Boston Bruins

On Saturday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins will begin their Eastern Conference Final in Boston's TD Garden. The winner of the series will progress to the Stanley Cup Finals.

The teams are evenly matched in many regards. Both teams are well-rested after sweeping through the second round and earning plenty of time off the ice before this series begins. The Lightning and Bruins both fell behind in their first-round series (3-1 for Tampa Bay, 2-0 for Boston), then rallied to win. Both teams' goalies have performed marvelously -- Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson brings in a 2.01 goals-against average and .941 save percentage, and Boston's Tim Thomas has a 2.03 goals-against and .937 save percentage.

However, the two teams have their own respective weaknesses to overcome and strengths to exploit.

Road games in Boston have a grand tradition of being a problem for the Bolts. During the franchise's history, Tampa Bay has a 4-22-9 record on Bruins ice. However, in this postseason it may be to the Lightning's advantage to be away from home for the first two games of this series. Unlike the regular season, the Lightning have played markedly better hockey on the road during the playoffs. In their six road games against the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay outscored their opponents 21-10, including an 8-0 edge on the power play, where they have a 32% conversion rate. In their five games at home, the Lightning's scoring advantage is only 17-14. The three power-play goals they've allowed during the playoffs were all at home, and they have just four of their own -- a 20% success rate.

Boston has its own set of weaknesses to improve upon. Special teams have been a thorn in Boston's side this whole postseason. After going nine games without scoring on the power-play, the Bruins finally managed to score a power-play goal during each of the last two games (one of which was a 5-on-3 situation). Defensively, Boston ranks 10th overall and last among the four conference finalists in postseason penalty killing at 80.5%. It's no match for Tampa Bay's 26.7% power-play and 94.4% penalty kill, and with Patrice Bergeron, one of the keys to the Bruins power play, out with a concussion, Boston will have to rely on 5-on-5 situations to put the puck in the net.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, this is something that that Boston is very, very good at doing. Despite scoring only two goals on special teams, the Bruins' 37 postseason goals rank them third in post-season goals scored, just one behind the Sharks and the Lightning. Boston's extremely physical style of play, exemplified by the 6-foot-9, 255 pound defenseman Zdeno Chara (the "Eiffel Tower", according to Lightning coach Guy Boucher)  has allowed the team to get the puck out of the Boston zone quickly. That in turn allows stars like Bergeron, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Brad Marchand to put the puck into the other team's net.

In addition to an ineffective power-play, fast teams like the Lightning have given the Bruins trouble in the past. The Montreal Canadiens' similar speed sometimes prevented Boston from clearing the puck out of their own territory in the first round. "They do make mistakes against teams that are faster," Boucher said of the Bruins.

The puck will drop at 8:00 pm Eastern time tonight, with nationwide TV coverage on Versus in the United States, and CBC and RDS in Canada.

Game Notes:

  • Martin St. Louis (6 goals, 7 assists) Vincent Lecavalier (5 G, 7 A), Steve Downie (2 G, 10 A), and Teddy Purcell (1 G, 10 A) all have over ten points in this postseason. Sean Bergenheim is tied for the NHL lead with seven playoff goals.
  • Simon Gagne is expected to play in Game 1 after missing three games.
  • Lightning defenseman Pavel Kubina did not accompany the team to Boston, but Boucher says that he expects Kubina to be available sometime during the series.
  • Marchand, Horton, and Krejci each have five goals and five assists for Boston in the playoffs. Bergeron also has 10 assists during the Bruins' run.
  • Bergeron will miss Game 1 with a concussion. However, he is expected to play in this series.
  • Tyler Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, will make his playoff debut for the Bruins.

Photographs by, thelastminute, turtlemom nancy , fesek, kthypryn, justinwright, sue_elias, pointnshoot, and scrapstothefuture used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.