Kukla's Korner

He Asked, I Answered (ECF Vol. 7): On Bolts’ 5-on-5 Play, Goalie Struggles, Officiating & Chocolate!

Throughout the Eastern Conference Final, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be providing some insight from our respective sides with reaction to each game result and a look to what’s ahead via a series of Q&As.

In our final Q&A of the series (tear, weep, sob), I address Tampa Bay’s even strength play, Dwayne Roloson versus Mike Smith one last time, the supposed controversy surrounding referee Eric Furlatt and the Lightning and the secret of my success, dark chocolate M&Ms…

***

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.

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Opposing Viewpoint: Kalman on Sloppy Game 6, Krejci’s Hatter, Chara up Front on the PP & Game 7 Pick

Throughout the Eastern Conference Final, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be providing some insight from our respective sides with reaction to each game result and a look to what’s ahead via a series of Q&As.

In this installment, Matt touches on the sloppiness of Game 6, David Krejci’s hat trick in a losing effort, the effectiveness of Zdeno Chara up front on the Bruins’ power play and gives an updated prediction for tonight’s Game 7.

***

JJ: Well, so… Now, we’ve had a Game 1 where… Oh, hell… Never mind. We can’t retread that every time.

But seriously, each of these games has had its own unique sets of twists and turns and nothing at all in this series has ever been able to be said with anything even resembling a real sense of certainty.

Well, except for the fact that you and I were each fairly certain from the start that this series would be going seven games. Congrats on that, my friend - and now we shall see who absolutely nailed this one.

But what about this one that has now come and gone? What is your lasting impression of a game that was a little bit like Game 2, where each team had far more than its fair share of turnovers? The two remaining teams in the Eastern Conference just aren’t supposed to look as sloppy as these two have for stretches this series and I’m starting to think that the styles of the games of Boston and Tampa Bay are like sand in the bathing suits of the other. (And even though you probably don’t get to the beach much up your way, I’m sure you can understand that such a dilemma makes for quite the uncomfortable end result.)

MK: Well we all knew – heck, a person that never saw hockey before in his life could tell you – that if the Bruins’ season went on long enough, one of two things would happen: the power play would explode in a hail of goals, or bite the Bruins in the butt…

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VIDEO: Boston Player Engages With Tampa Fan

An electric scene at the St. Pete Times Forum got a little ugly beyond the final horn sounded to wrap up Tampa Bay’s 5-4 Game 6 win on Wednesday, as a large portion of the home crowd chose to toss the giveaway rally drums to the ice as their method of celebrating the victory. That’s never a good idea, sports fans, and certainly not when the tossed item is made with hard plastic and chucked from hundreds of feet away.

But you know what’s an even worse idea? A visiting player deciding to engage a fan on his way off the ice, as it appears an unidentifiable Bruin does in this clip circulating on YouTube. (Credit my former colleague on The Bolts Beat, Mike Corcoran for the find.)

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Photo Captures St. Louis Well: Intense, Humble, Clutch

Quickly this morning, I just wanted to pass along a shot from today’s Tampa Tribune, which I believe captures a lot of what makes Martin St. Louis such an impact player for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

St. Louis, of course, led the Bolts last night with a three-point performance, including a pair of goals that gives him 10 this postseason and a share of the overall playoff lead in Tampa Bay’s 5-4 win to force a decisive Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final in Boston Friday night.

We spoke after Game 5 of a need for the Lightning’s biggest stars to come through to ensure this series would go the distance and St. Louis, the undisputed driving force behind this team for years now, was leading that charge Wednesday. He, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos combined for eight points and Teddy Purcell added a pair of goals for good measure in an electric Tampa Bay victory.

image

Photo by Chris Urso, TBO.com

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Stars Shine for Tampa, Forcing Game 7 Friday Night

The stars were out for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final and though this one was yet another example in a seemingly endless string of unpredictable tilts in this series, in the end, it was the hometown Bolts prevailing to force a Game 7 in Boston Friday night.

It wasn’t exactly a reach to say that at least one of the Lightning’s three marquee names would come through in such a pivotal affair but you just had to know that even a little of that would take the Bolts a long way tonight – a clutch goal at the right moment from one of the team’s best.

Instead, the Lightning got a lot of it from Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, to the tune of three goals and five assists for eight points, to be exact. And, ultimately, they needed it all in another wild affair as the Bruins, led by David Krejci’s hat trick performance, twice cut Tampa Bay two-goal leads in half in the third period before the final buzzer sounded on the Lightning’s 5-4 win.

Beyond Tampa Bay’s superstar trio, Teddy Purcell’s second two-goal showing of the series aided the Lightning cause and Steve Downie posted two assists as part of an outstanding, all-around effort on his part.

But it was the big three in the end – Vinny, Marty and Stammer – that put the Bolts over the hump tonight and into an opportunity to win one game for a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.

That should come as no surprise at all.

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He Asked, I Answered (ECF Vol. 6): On Roloson/Smith, Downie/Boychuk and Game 6 Keys for Tampa

Throughout the Eastern Conference Final, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be providing some insight from our respective sides with reaction to each game result and a look to what’s ahead via a series of Q&As.

In today’s Q&A, I give my take on Lightning head coach Guy Boucher going from Dwayne Roloson to Mike Smith for Game 5 (and now back to Roli for Game 6), touch on the Steve Downie hit on Johnny Boychuk, identify a key ingredient for Tampa Bay’s success in Game 6 tonight and much more (including, of course, Boucher’s trademark laser beam eyes)...

***

MK: Well, well, well. Guy Boucher pulled a fast one on me and many of my colleagues – except Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe – and went with Mike Smith over Dwayne Roloson. I’ve got to admit, that takes some major cajones.

What did you think of the move? I though Smith played very well, but he lost. So will Boucher go back with him?

JJ: First of all, you’re not giving me any credit. As I’m sure you remember (and have only omitted in a concerted effort to screw with my head), I totally kinda sorta maybe somewhat called the start for Smith (a little) after Game 4. Whatever, Matt. I don’t even know you anymore. [MK note: Full credit is granted. Also this was answered before Boucher announced Roloson today for Game 6 start.]

But seriously… Yeah, some stones on Boucher, eh? In looking back, it simply shows confidence in each of his goaltenders but, had that blown up on him, Boucher would have been criticized to no end. On two occasions, I thought the hockey gods were clearly working against Boucher, Smith and the Lightning last night: One, on a Boston dump-in, when the puck took a funny bounce off of a stanchion and right out in front of Smith, which could have ricocheted in easily; and two, when Johnny Boychuk decided against ringing another dump-in around the boards and instead fired one in on Smith from just outside the blueline. Smitty didn’t see it right away and had to get a quick glove up on what seemed such a mundane play.

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Opposing Viewpoint: Kalman on the Inimitable Thomas, Ups & Downs of Horton, Steady Seidenberg & More

Throughout the Eastern Conference Final, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be providing some insight from our respective sides with reaction to each game result and a look to what’s ahead via a series of Q&As.

Here’s our latest banter, where Matt and I discuss the heroics of Tim Thomas, Nathan Horton’s penalty troubles versus offensive production, what Dennis Seidenberg means to the Boston defense and much more…

***

JJ: Well, by my count, this series has seen a one-sided contest, an offensive showcase, a shutout, a turnover-filled comeback and now, last night’s tightly-contested thriller. In my opinion, Game 5 was the best hockey we’ve seen so far, looking at the two teams, collectively that is. All that tells me absolutely nothing, in terms of what to expect in Game 6.

The screws are really to the Lightning now, though, as they’ll have no choice but to stave off elimination at home tomorrow night - or spend a summer thinking, “What if?”

One of those “What if?” moments will surely be, “What if Steve Downie’s shot was an inch up or down when Tim Thomas made that incredible, sprawling stick save in the third period?” That’s the kind of save that nightmares are made of, at least on one side. As for the other, well, sometimes that’s the kind of play that becomes an iconic championship image, if you know what I’m saying.

Regarding Thomas, unless either of their netminders has a shutout in them (which no team in their right mind would ever be counting on at any time), the Bolts are going to have to figure out a way to get more than just one goal past the Bruins super goalie. We joked about Super Seguin earlier in the series (which we aren’t allowed to do anymore, apparently) but we all know it’s Thomas underpants that Superman truly wears (and probably the “footy” kind). The Lightning have put up goals on Thomas before, of course, but as this series goes on, Thomas seems to be getting stronger to me - and that’s a scary proposition for Tampa Bay.

Do I have that pegged right? Is Tim Thomas what I think he is - a big-time, money goaltender, who only gets better with more on the line? Aside from that, you can’t help but like the guy. The way he handled his words being spun into a guarantee after Game 4, for example, has me chuckling. But back on point: Thomas was better, I thought, last night than he was in the Game 3 shutout, coming through in the clutch for the B’s time and again. Do you agree? And, if so, what is it (aside from the super powers) that allows this guy to elevate his game as the intensity builds around him?

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Time for Tampa Bay’s Biggest Stars to Shine in Game 6

Whether Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher goes back to Dwayne Roloson or sticks with Mike Smith in a must-win Game 6 tomorrow night, in all likelihood, won’t be the biggest factor in determining the game’s outcome. The Bolts can win in front of either netminder and each is capable of keeping the Boston Bruins at bay, so long as the team’s effort and execution in front of them is sufficient, of course.

It was last night and Smith performed admirably in defeat. Problem was, Tampa Bay just couldn’t get a puck past an All-World goalie at the other end in Tim Thomas, save for Simon Gagne’s tally 1:09 into the first period, and a single score doesn’t stand much of a chance as the lone goal in a 1-0 win at this point in the postseason.

You can’t expect to win like that – not with two teams so close to playing for the Stanley Cup and willing to do whatever it takes to score. I don’t care who the goaltender is.

Really, neither should you.

Each of the Lightning’s goalies has it in him to do the job in the Tampa Bay crease. Now, more than ever, Boucher, his staff, team management, the goaltenders themselves and the players in front of them all know that to be true.

Fans and pundits alike should accept it as well.

Because the biggest key to tomorrow night’s Game 6 for the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t be the play of either Roloson or Smith.

The difference in this one will come from Tampa Bay’s superstar trio of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.

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Lightning’s Fast Turnaround Pleases and Impresses - but Doesn’t Surprise - Former GM Feaster

On the day Jay Feaster’s interim tag was removed as Calgary’s general manager last Monday, his former club, the Tampa Bay Lightning, would jump out to a 1-0 series lead over the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final with a 5-2 performance on the road.

Feaster, who resigned from his post as Lightning GM in July of 2008, in the early days of the then-incoming OK Hockey ownership group, has taken notice of the rejuvenated Bolts – it’s been hard not to, of course – and, like so many others, has come away very impressed at what they’ve been able to accomplish in year one under new management, now just a pair of wins away from competing for the Stanley Cup, tied with Boston in the series at 2-2.

Impressed, naturally. But surprised at the quick results?

“Quite honestly, I am not surprised,” he explained. “I felt there were some excellent pieces of the puzzle already in place and I was confident that quality ownership and management would make a huge difference.”

The era of the regime under which Feaster’s days in the organization came to an end was marred with owner infighting, financial difficulties, questionable personnel decisions and poor on-ice results. All of that, he noted, was difficult to see transpire.

“It was painful to watch what we had built under [previous] ownership destroyed in such a short period of time,” said Feaster, referring to the late Bill Davidson, who owned the Lightning from 1999-2008. “It was also very difficult for me to talk with the many friends and colleagues I left behind and hear the kind of environment they were working in for that unpleasant period.”

But, just as it has for fans of the Lightning franchise, this year’s turnaround and the ongoing success of the team under owner Jeff Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke, GM Steve Yzerman, head coach Guy Boucher and a host of other new faces throughout the organization has washed away a lot of that for the man who was at the helm for its Stanley Cup championship of 2004.

“Seeing the franchise rejuvenated and back on top means the world to me.”

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He Asked, I Answered (ECF Vol. 5): On the Best-of-Three for a Crack at the Cup, Goalies and More

Throughout the Eastern Conference Final, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be providing some insight from our respective sides with reaction to each game result and a look to what’s ahead via a series of Q&As.

In this morning’s installment, I attempt to make some sort of prediction for how the final three games of the Eastern Conference Final will shake out (kind of), touch on the possibility of a more aggressive Lightning squad (sort of) and offer up a little insight on the now slightly muddled Tampa Bay goaltending picture (maybe).

As you can tell from that lead-in, what’s turned into a best-of-three has a lot of us guessing in a lot of areas, based on what we’ve seen to this point (which is a little bit of everything).

***

MK: Well, you put me on the spot about making a prediction. Can you get a handle on what’s going to happen in this series?

As you saw in my answer, all I can guarantee is that if the Bruins’ No. 1 line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic doesn’t produce, the Lightning will go to the final. But what’s your take after seeing the Lightning all year? Do they have what it takes to replicate the last two periods of Game 4 and win two more games, or will they revert to Game 3 form?

JJ: The Lightning definitely have what it takes to win this series – somewhere in there.

Having won games one and four in strikingly different fashion – 1 in a near-dominant performance throughout, and 4 in a stunning comeback – they’ve shown they’re more than capable. But, Tampa Bay has also dropped games two and three in widely varying ways.

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