At this point, I suppose there should no longer be any surprise factor to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s continued playoff success.
Not when they’ve just completed their eighth straight postseason victory to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
This team has quickly evolved from having some upset potential and the golden opportunity for a deep playoff run in the wide open East into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
At this point, you can’t look at it any other way.
Not when they have the early advantage in their own series and out west, the other conference finalists, set to kick things off tonight, have had to endure similarly grueling paths to the West Final that very well may have each squad significantly worn down already with plenty of damage left to inflict upon each other in the upcoming series.
The Lightning, a team that is truly “all in” (as their season’s official slogan dictates), have established themselves as a bona fide threat to win it all after a remarkable rally from a 3-1 deficit to Pittsburgh in round one, a stunning sweep of Washington thereafter and the early upper hand now against Boston. That they have done so as a club that has taken on the classic look of a championship team cements their case.
Methodical coaching. Solid goaltending. A responsible and effective defense corps. Tremendous scoring depth up front. Dominant special teams. Invaluable intangibles.
After launching our Eastern Conference Final allied coverage with an in-depth series preview on Tuesday, Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net stepped up yesterday to lead off our ongoing series of Q&As that will hit before and/or after each game between the Lightning and Bruins.
Today, my first set of responses to his questions runs in its entirety over at his site. Here’s a sneak peek at that line of questioning:
MK: Before I get started, Jon, I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to do this little collaboration during the Eastern Conference Final. It’s been 19 years since the Bruins made it this far and I know my readers are as eager to know more about Tampa Bay as they are to read about their hometown team.
JJ: My pleasure, Matt - and likewise to you. Collaborating with other writers, whose work I hold in the highest regard, is something I always look forward to. The readers seem to appreciate the opposing perspective, as do I.
For this particular series, with a shot at playing for the Cup on the line, the intensity level is going to be through the roof. Perhaps our banter back and forth will catch a little of that fire. (Careful, though. I come in elbows-up!) However it all turns out, hopefully, the masses will come away entertained and informed…
MK: So, here are three questions for you before this series finally gets started Saturday:
At long last, the Boston/Tampa Bay Eastern Conference Final is nearly upon us.
While we broke down the series in serious depth the other day (and made predictions for which my popularity rating has surely plummeted yet again), that was only the tip of the iceberg, as far as the collaborative efforts Matt Kalman of TheBruinsBlog.net and I will be putting forth for the upcoming Bruins/Lightning showdown.
Kicking things off with in fine fashion tonight is Mr. Kalman stepping in to address some conversation-starters I tossed in his direction.
Later on tonight, or perhaps tomorrow morning, I’ll post a link to my return fire to some hot topics on his mind as well.
Have a look and stick with us from the opening faceoff in the series until the handshakes in the finale (which each of us expects to come exactly seven games from now…)
JJ: First off, Matt, allow me to extend my appreciation for your joining forces with someone from enemy territory to cover opposing angles in this series.
It made for some unique material in round one when I worked with FromThePoint.com’s Brian Metzer and was met with overwhelmingly positive responses. (So, I guess, in a way, pressure’s on, bud!)
MK: Well, in past years this would be a spot for a joke about the Bruins and crumbling under the pressure. But this is a different year and a new era. So I’ll just thank you for letting me a part of this getting TheBruinsBlog.net some more exposure. I’m looking forward to a great series.
The Tampa Bay Lightning may be a bigger surprise participant than the Boston Bruins as an Eastern Conference Final participant and most pundits will undoubtedly give the Bruins the edge in the upcoming showdown between the two but these two clubs have followed an eerily similar path to get to where they are today.
Identical regular season records of 46-25-11 for 103 points.
Seven-game battles in the opening round of the playoffs necessitating significant comebacks, with Boston down 2-0 to begin their series with Montreal and Tampa Bay having to rally back from a 3-1 deficit against Pittsburgh.
Clean, four-game sweeps of their higher-seeded second round opponents in Philadelphia for the Bruins and top-seeded Washington for the Lightning.
The stage, then, is set for breaking down a series between two teams that will each pose the biggest threat the other has seen to this point, with a shot to vie for the Stanley Cup on the line.
From a position-by-position view, to kick off our collaboration on the upcoming series, here’s how this one shapes up, in the eyes of myself on the Lightning side of things and of TheBruinsBlog.net’s Matt Kalman from a Boston perspective:
Anyone else feel like the Tampa Bay Lightning have enjoyed a mini-off-season of sorts lately?
Granted, it’s only been five days since the Bolts disposed of the Washington Capitals with the big broom of death, completing the four-game sweep at the St. Pete Times Forum last Wednesday to reach the Eastern Conference Final (and granteder, any kind of rest would do wonders for any team at this time of year) but, still, the first two rounds were quite the whirlwind and after a head-spinning couple of weeks, in all honesty, it’s been nice to have a little down time.
That’s all over for the Lightning, who returned to practice yesterday and hit the ice again today (with the addition of forward Simon Gagne, albeit in a red, non-contact jersey, now expected to be back for game one).
And it’s all over for yours truly as well as we’re close enough now to the start of the series for a comprehensive preview to post aaaaaaaaany time now and for game-by-game coverage to resume in short order, to boot.
With that, I’ll remind you of the upcoming collaboration with Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog, who is working with me on the series preview and will be joining forces throughout the series for alternating Q&A sessions not unlike those I had the pleasure of doing with From the Point‘s Brian Metzer in round one.
Filed in: Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vancouver Canucks, Washington Capitals, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink
The Pittsburgh Penguins understood the distinction between regular season and playoff hockey. They just didn’t have the firepower to finish off the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Washington Capitals had all kinds of firepower at the ready but still haven’t mastered the “next level” aspect of the postseason. That their offensive arsenal never fired in unison only exacerbated their issues resulting in a clean semifinal sweep by the Bolts.
Now, with their opponent for the Eastern Conference Final officially set in the Boston Bruins, the Lightning will face their stiffest competition yet.
Boston has both the guns and the gusto, as well as a feel for the pulse of the playoffs.
Not that Pittsburgh and Washington weren’t (because it can be argued that both previous playoff adversaries for the Lightning, particularly the latter, underachieved to a certain extent in their respective series) but the Bruins are dangerous.
And they possess the primo crease-keeper in all the NHL, in the eyes of many.
It’s only fair to admit, again, that there’s a significant level of shock in my camp about the level of success the Tampa Bay Lightning have achieved not only this season but now, especially, in the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The comeback against Pittsburgh, after going down 3-1 with the Penguins heading home for game five, was remarkable. The second round sweep over Washington, in my opinion, was nothing short of against all odds.
Maybe you thought they’d beat the Capitals. Fine.
But you can’t tell me you called a sweep. If you did, I’d like to shake your hand.
I’m left with no choice but to say this: I’m going to have a very difficult time picking against the Lightning again in the Eastern Conference Final. (The fans won’t want me to, at this point, having gone against the hometown Bolts twice now in my
predictions thus far, and I get that. Just saying. Might be difficult… I’m pretty sold.)
Along with the shellshock for me tonight comes a little weariness, so I’ll leave you until tomorrow with some rapid-fire thoughts and a few choice postgame quotes from tonight.
Figuring out exactly why the Tampa Bay Lightning up three games to none on the Washington Capitals in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series is no easy task.
After all, while some pundits may have had either enough confidence in the Bolts to pick them to win this series or not enough in the Caps to see it going their way, few (if any) could have had Tampa Bay a single game away from a clean sweep over Washington.
From an analytical standpoint, one could point to a power play that has only clicked once in three games for the Capitals (and only then, on a five-on-three advantage).
Or credit for that development in the series could go Tampa’s way, their penalty killers now 49-for-51 in the postseason.
One could single out Capital players like Nicklas Backstrom, scoreless now in eight playoff games, with only a pair of assists to his credit.
Or heap praise upon Lightning contributors such as Sean Bergenheim, now with five goals for Tampa Bay in his first crack at the Stanley Cup playoffs.
One could look at a goal or two that have slipped past youngster Michael Neuvirth in the Washington crease when, perhaps, they should have been stopped, and also note that seasoned veteran Dwayne Roloson across the rink has done less of just that for Tampa Bay.
But maybe analytics aren’t the key to how this series has played out through three games.
As you get set for game three’s early start at the St. Pete Times Forum tonight, here’s an audio clip on the Washington/Tampa Bay series from a spot I did on Calgary’s FAN960 yesterday.
Thanks to Pat Steinberg and Jason DeForest for having me on.
Also, I’ll be providing updates on Playoff Game Night on TSN Radio throughout tonight’s game once again and, unless a potential extended overtime prohibits as much, will jump over to Ice Cap on NHL Home Ice for a postgame wrap-up around 10:25, ET.
Busy season continues…
You could point to the fact that the Washington Capitals took four of the six regular season meetings with the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
Or that the Lightning are riding all kinds of momentum after a stunning comeback from a 3-1 deficit to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round one.
You could argue that the Caps will be relieved to simply be out of the first round after last year’s disappointing early exit amid lofty expectations.
Or that the Bolts are wiped after a seven-game grind.
But I’d just as soon put all of that – all of it – aside leading up to a series that will yield one of two potentially axis-shifting results:
The reloaded Lightning, stabilized by new ownership and one of the most-respected names in NHL history running the front office and steered by a blossoming mastermind coach, extending the ultimate one-year turnaround into a shot at a conference championship – and a step away from the grandest prize of all – just like that.
Or the regular season stalwart Capitals, finally living up to their billing as a bona fide contender, knocking not one but two playoff rounds out of the way – two more than many expected – inching closer to cementing their names in history and cementing the mouths of herds of detractors.