by Jon Jordan on 05/07/11 at 01:21 AM ET
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.
Tampa Bay certainly has their work cut out for them in their efforts to extend this impressive run all the way to the postseason’s final round.
All of that being said, it has become common knowledge these past few weeks that these Bolts are not to be underestimated, by any stretch. They work like no other, are getting contributions from throughout the lineup and, perhaps atop the list of impactful intangibles, every player in the Lightning locker room truly believes that they can continue to take things to a new level. The playoffs, to this point, have been a wonderful teacher for Tampa Bay - a group that has proven to be a very quick learn at a time when just that was necessary.
The 3-1 deficit to the Penguins, which included two consecutive home losses after a game two victory, instilled the postseason basics for the Lightning, who were overzealous in front of the home crowd in game three and overadjusted to nearly passive as a follow-up. An 8-2 explosion in Pittsburgh in game five sparked confidence and the Bolts, having learned from their previous mistakes, finally found the right level of intensity in game six, pushing the series to the limit and wrapping it up with a 1-0 series clincher in game seven.
And the subsequent series, four straight in stunning fashion over the top-seeded Capitals, has the Lightning soaring.
On the other side, Boston had to battle past their biggest rival in the opening round, ousting the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, before completing a sweep of their own against Philadelphia tonight.
The finale for one side of the Stanley Cup playoff bracket is set, with two red-hot clubs in Boston and Tampa Bay set to square off.
For the Lightning, the Bruins clearly present their greatest test to date.
And in Tampa Bay, Boston has exactly that for themselves as well.
Prediction forthcoming, people… I have to sift through this one from several angles before I get another one wrong, you know…
In round one, I was proud to team up with Brian Metzer of FromThePoint.com for an ongoing collaboration on all-things Pittsburgh/Tampa Bay, presenting opposing viewpoints from our respective sides.
As the Washington series began so soon after the previous round was completed (and then, of course, was over in a flash), any sort of tag team effort for that tilt proved impossible.
But I’m proud to announce that for the upcoming Bruins/Lightning battle, I’ll be joining forces with Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog for a look at this series from opposing perspectives. Matt does a great job at TBB and I am looking forward to working with him.
We should have our first shared effort up early next week, at the latest.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone, and Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there.
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