Kukla's Korner

Category: Boston-Bruins

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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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

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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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

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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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Opposing Viewpoint: Kalman on Expecting the Unexpected, More Woes for Kaberle & Tampa Physical Play

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.

***

JJ: Four games in and I think we can say with some certainty now that we’ve seen a little bit of everything:

Lightning dominance in game one.

The surprising run-and-gun, back-and-forth action of game two.

A Tim Thomas shutout in a defensive gem from the Bruins in game three.

And now the game four comeback from the Lightning to knot the series at 2-2, heading back to Boston.

I’m putting it to you to play Swami now, Matt: After four games so different in nature, what happens next in what’s become a best-of-three?

MK: Ugh. Swami makes me of that buffoon Chris Berman. How about we classify me as the new Carnac the Magnificent? [JJ Note: How about a compromise? Just for our Canadian friends, we’ll call you “Kreskin”.]

What happens next is anyone’s guess. I mean, we’re at a point in the series where the Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas is getting lambasted by the fan base for his latest subpar performance and there are people actually making an argument to start a guy in net, Mike Smith for Tampa Bay who was in the minors most of the season over Dwayne Roloson, who led all goalies in GAA and save percentage entering this series. I honestly don’t know what planet we’re playing this series on.

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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Clutch Relief Performance Brings Mike Smith Full Circle and the Lightning Into a 2-2 Series Tie

He spoke of Tampa in a consistent past tense and yearned for an opportunity elsewhere.

He looked at an AHL stint as a chance to refine his game, showcase his skills and provide leadership for those just starting their professional hockey careers.

He did not expect to be back in a Lightning uniform and he certainly couldn’t have predicted a clutch showing in game four of the Eastern Conference Final, as he put forth today.

In his mind, Mike Smith was as close to being a former Bolt as it gets in late February, when he and I spoke at length over the phone – he in Norfolk, Virginia and I, here, in Tampa – but just a day later, Smith’s Lightning career breathed new life, as he was placed on re-entry waivers after the team shipped backup goaltender Dan Ellis to Anaheim. Clearing a day later, Smith rejoined the Bolts and took his place behind Dwayne Roloson on the depth chart in the Lightning crease.

And today, Smith stepped in for Roloson, who yielded three Boston goals on nine shots in the first period, stopped all 21 Bruin shots he faced and earned the all-important win as his teammates rallied for five unanswered goals to even the series at two games apiece.

It’s amazing how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?

“Yeah, it is,” Smith said after the game four victory, recalling the exact conversation we had back then and reiterating the gut feelings he had at the time.

“I never thought I would play for the Lightning again.”

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Filed in: AHL Hockey, Boston Bruins, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

He Asked, I Answered (ECF Vol. 4): On Production from TB’s “Big 3”, Physicality, Fans’ Energy & 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 are my answers to Matt’s latest queries on the happenings in this series:

MK: So did you enjoy the Tyler Seguin era? I can tell from your questions that you did. It’s over now, you know? We’re back living in the world dominated by Tim Thomas and the defensively sharp Bruins.

Of course, maybe they wouldn’t look as sharp if the Lightning’s stars were playing at their best. To me, Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier had a lot more problems not only against Zdeno Chara, but even against the other Boston defensemen than you’d expect in their first home game of the series and with the second change.

What’s your take on how the Big Three are doing?

JJ: I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear how utterly disappointed I am in Seguin not scoring even a single point last night when everyone knows he was supposed to have netted at least a hat trick. How dare he?!?!? Clearly, he is not at all cognizant of his role as not only Boston’s savior but also the lone individual who can save us all from tomorrow’s scheduled Rapture. (We can only hope that someone informs the kid before we’re all doomed.)

My take on Tampa’s “Big Three” (no longer an exercise in futility, naturally, now that Super Seguin has come back to Earth): They’re a game removed from a combined nine-point output and Lecavalier and St. Louis still have a share of the overall postseason scoring lead with 16 points apiece. Cut ‘em some damn slack!

Boston squelched the flow of the Lightning all night long and the big guns were a (big) part of that. At first, I pondered whether or not the captain, in particular, had an off night. There were times when he didn’t seem to be able to kick things into that higher gear so necessary for postseason success. But, after some second thought, a little video review and a look back at the stat sheet, Lecavalier managed five shots on goal, had several prime scoring chances and led all Lightning forwards in ice time (23:09). If he looked to be slowed on occasion, he certainly wasn’t alone – and that’s more a credit to what the Bruins were able to do.

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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Opposing Viewpoint: Kalman on Pointless Seguin (Noooo!), Boston’s Fast Start, Cheerleaders(?) & 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 session, Matt takes on my tough questions on such topics as - gasp! - Tyler Seguin not scoring even a single point in game three, Boston’s fast start and ability to stymie the Lightning attack, systematic advantages and, yes, “cheerleaders”, as he so irresponsibly calls them.

***

JJ: In an effort to provide a little levity for my Lightning fan friends out there, well kick things off in lighthearted fashion here today, so as not to overwhelm the masses.

Apparently, the off-ice officials are not as impressed with Tyler Seguin as the rest of the free world. Clearly, he scored Boston’s second goal last night with his mind and yet, here we are, looking at the final score sheet, where they’ve changed it to correctly reflect Andrew Ference as the goal-scorer.

Haters? Or might Seguin have his very own Lex Luthor residing right here in Tampa (or, perhaps, up there in the Toronto war room)?

MK: Everything is Seguin. He’s so fast that the back wind from him skating toward the net blew the puck in through Dwayne Roloson’s 5-hole. Or maybe it was the shock that overcame Roloson at the sight of Seguin going to the net that made the puck trickle in. Regardless, there’s obviously an anti-Seguin population out there that controls the war room and the final stats sheet. There are plenty of people in Boston today that probably think Seguin not only scored that goal but the one credited to David Krejci as well.

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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

Early Mistake Paves the Way as Boston Shuts Down Tampa in Game Three

It came only 1:09 into the game but it stood up for the remaining 58:51.

David Krejci’s first period goal put the Boston Bruins ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning last night in game three of the Eastern Conference Final but the team’s stifling defensive effort kept them there and allowed them to leave the St. Pete Times Forum with a 2-1 series lead, having closed out the Bolts in shutout fashion, 2-0.

It was one mistake – and a team goof, overall, despite those that will want to put the screws to Victor Hedman on the goal – but it was enough to put the Lightning on the losing end of a game where both teams accomplished a lot of what they set out to do on the heels of Tuesday night’s head-spinning, 6-5 decision for Boston.

If game two was wide open pond hockey, game three was played, seemingly, in a walk-in cooler, with little room to maneuver for either side, each team clamping down defensively and Boston’s clogging of the neutral zone effectively frustrating the Lightning throughout.

And in a game like that, when a one-goal lead becomes a two-goal lead, any hope of a turnaround goes right out the window. The Lightning may, in fact be a team that “always comes back” in third periods, as head coach Guy Boucher is often quick to remind, but that wasn’t happening against Tim Thomas and the Boston defensive effort in front of him last night – and certainly not after Andrew Ference’s insurance goal snuck through Dwayne Roloson’s pads and trickled into the Tampa Bay net. Not, even, with nearly 12 minutes still to play.

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This & That: Some Last Minute Pregame Thought on Sign Sensitivity, Bergeron Back, Cheap Trick & More

How’s some scattered thought from the periphery of the Eastern Conference Final sound to take up some of your time before tonight’s opening faceoff?

Good? Good. Cause that’s what I got right now…

***

What’s the big deal?

That’s what I’ve been screaming about folks taking offense to some of the signage posted at the TD Garden and in the surrounding Boston area since the beginning of the Bruins-Lightning series.

So, they took some lighthearted swipes at their opposition’s fans.

So what?

Please tell me we haven’t reached a new level of sensitivity that dictates an inability to handle some good-natured ribbing…

I mean, if you’ve considered yourself a Floridian for any substantial period of time and you haven’t shrugged off a geriatric barb or 3,000 by now, I don’t know where you’ve been (and I’ve lived in four corners of the state) or what you’ve been doing (and I’ve done, well, whatever…)

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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

He Asked, I Answered (ECF Vol. 3): On a Nutty Game Two, Lightning Adjustments, Super Seguin 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 give my take on what the Lightning will do to rebound from game two’s disappointment, what went wrong in that - well, whatever that was - and wonder along with Matt if the Bolts should even bother getting after it in game three, what with the invincible “Super” Tyler Seguin now at Boston’s disposal. (Refreshing, it is, to pair with a fellow writer whose “snark” level is in the same ballpark as mine!)

***

MK: Well, it looks like the score is James Bond 1, Dr. Evil Guy Boucher 1. In the movies, once Bond foils the sinister plot, the story ends. But Boucher and the Lightning get a real-life opportunity to get back at it, and on home ice. So what does the mastermind have in store? What adjustments will be made? Could we see any sort of a lineup change?

JJ: The focus – and perhaps the singular focus – will be on returning to the structure of their system for the Lightning, who were as freewheelin’ as you’ll ever see them in game two, a recipe that helps make for an exciting game maybe, as we saw last night, but not so much for a Tampa Bay win. In November, the Bolts actually managed an 8-7 victory in Philadelphia over the Flyers but Boucher was none too pleased, despite the two points. Last night, had the Lightning prevailed, you still wouldn’t have seen a happy head coach afterwards. About 99% of that first period, in particular, was unacceptable, as compared to what has brought Tampa Bay its biggest successes this season.

I don’t expect anything to be pulled from any bag of tricks. Instead, the Bolts will dance with the girl that brought ‘em – and hope their two-step turns out better than Boston’s in game three. I also wouldn’t expect anything in the way of a lineup change, as there isn’t exactly a murderer’s row of impact players at Tampa’s disposal among the Black Aces bunch.

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Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
 

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