by Jon Jordan on 05/12/11 at 08:58 PM ET
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.
JJ: Let’s get a big negative out of the way right out of the gate here. All indications are that Patrice Bergeron will miss game one of the series for Boston, at the very least, and perhaps more. Is it possible for you to explain just what Bergeron means to this team? And how can we expect his absence, both as the Bruins’ leading scorer in the playoffs and as a player who contributes in all situations for the team, to affect the club from a strategic standpoint?
MK: Well, the best way to sum it up is to tell you that if defenseman Zdeno Chara is the one player the Bruins cannot live without, Bergeron is No. 2. As you mentioned, Bergeron contributes in all areas of the game. He takes every important faceoff, he’s willing to block or shot or take a hit every shift and he’s also a big-time leader by example. His absence will be felt the most on special teams. He’s an important playmaker on Boston’s already struggling power play from along the half-wall. Without his vision, Brad Marchand, Michael Ryder and Mark Recchi are going to have to grind out some scoring chance around the net.
Everything else aside, I can’t imagine how the Bruins are going to survive against a power play as potent as the Lightning’s without Bergeron. He’s by far their best penalty-killer and, again, those faceoffs are going to be huge. Rich Peverley is going to have to make up for Bergeron’s right-handed faceoffs and he’s only won 45.3 percent of his draws in the playoffs.
David Krejci, who hasn’t killed penalties for a couple of months, is going to have to re-enter the fray and add some minutes. That might hinder his effectiveness. The same goes for Recchi, who has only killed penalties sparingly the last several months.
Oddly enough, the Bruins might be able to get by without Bergeron best at 5-on-5 than on the special teams. Chris Kelly is a poor man’s Bergeron and that line with Marchand and Recchi should still have enough speed and grit to create some chances and match up with one of Tampa Bay’s top offensive trios.
JJ: When I think of the Boston Bruins, I think immediately of Chara, of whom I’ve long been a fan. In my opinion, there aren’t many players in the league, regardless of position, who can make as much of an impact in a game as Chara can. He’s obviously a behemoth on the Boston blue line that can punish you physically but I think people tend to forget about how effective he is with his stick. His reach (which is, what? Like, 38 feet?) is undoubtedly a problem for attacking forwards and his offensive game is nothing to scoff at either, having just completed an impressive eighth straight 40+ point season. You know Chara’s game better than I, having covered him for years and, as I’d assume you’d agree, watching him get better and better each year. Now, though, I’m asking you to put yourself on the other side of things and to imagine that your team is about to face Chara as an adversary. How do you beat him? How do you lessen that impact that he is merely a monster hit, a booming shot, a crafty poke check or precision pass away from making at any given moment? In short, what is the key to playing against such an imposing figure as Zdeno Chara? [Disclaimer: You may not answer with references to Martin St. Louis and the height differential between he and Chara, any mention of Max Pacioretty or the term “stanchion” or what a fantastic trade Chara (and more) for Alexei Yashin was for the New York Islanders.] Proceed…
MK: Well, my first answer was going to be “avoid the stanchion!” But seriously, there have been very few instances of Chara being off his game the last several years. There are two approaches that teams have to take to lessen his effectiveness because you’re never going to make him into a non-factor or a detriment to the Bruins’ cause. But the first obvious way is to dump the puck into his corner and try to wear him down physically. With the minutes he’s playing, and coming off the illness that forced him out of Game 2 of the first-round Montreal series, the Lightning might be able to at least force a mental mistake late in games by taking this tactic. Having Dennis Seidenberg as Chara’s sidekick, however, makes this more difficult because the German is excellent at supporting his partner and making himself available for passes, as well as slowing down forecheckers with his positioning.
The second way to go is to get those stretch passes behind him. Chara sometimes has a tough time making decisions about stepping up or dropping back at the blue line and can get himself tangled up when making a move to catch up to a streaking forward. Obviously, his reach helps him limit those chances, but if the Lightning mix things up – an indirect pass here, a stretch pass down the middle there – they can at least get into a mental chess match with Chara and maybe catch him making the wrong decision.
One last thing I think is pertinent to this is that two years ago against Carolina, Chara struggled matching up with Eric Staal when the games were on the road. Having to jump on and off the ice at a whim seemed to throw him off. Now the Lightning might also be able to create the same effect with their road-game line juggling.
JJ: Finally today, even though the object of these Q&A sessions will primarily remain Bruins-directed from me to you and vice versa in return, I feel obligated to throw some of your own words back your way, to give you the opportunity to explain something you said in your first series of questions to me about Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. And I quote: “In his rookie year, I liked his game but I wasn’t impressed the few times I saw [Hedman] this year.” What was it about his game that you didn’t like this year? Because those of us that follow him on a regular basis would be much more inclined to state the opposite – that there was much not to like last year but that Hedman has made tremendous strides as a NHL sophomore. Strictly out of curiosity, was it anything in particular from prior Lightning/Bruins tilts that stuck out to you? Or are you speaking from a more general standpoint? My bet is that, within the next three years, we’ll be talking about perennial NHL All-Star defenseman Victor (not former Bruin draft choice, Anton) Hedman. Does that sound like a reach to you, from an outsider’s point of view?
MK: You had to throw that Anton Hedman reference in my face, didn’t you? That guy seems to be embedded in my brain and anyone named Hedman I automatically call Anton. I think it’s because as a rookie reporter he was one of the first Bruins players I ever interviewed at rookie camp and that’s when I realized that not all hockey players speak English.
But back to Victor “For Victory” Hedman, I just thought that in the Bruins-Lightning games – of which I saw two on television (so judging D can be tricky) – he didn’t play with the physicality I’d like from a guy his size. And he didn’t seem to protect the puck very well when forced to carry it out of his own end. Now, you can’t necessarily go by what I think, because I never thought Seidenberg would emerge as a No. 2 for the Bruins. That you and the rest of the Lightning observers have seen him grow is great to hear. Along the lines of what we discussed above with Chara, I’ll be interested to see how the Bruins attack Hedman. The Bruins got lucky with Chris Pronger’s injury last round. Hal Gill and P.K. Subban gave them – mostly the No. 1 line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton – fits in the first round. The Krejci line wasn’t able to cycle or win battles and that completely took them out of their game. That might be something Hedman can be involved in in this series. And without Bergeron, if the Bruins can’t squeeze offense out of their first line, they won’t be long for this series.
So, there you have it. The first installment of what should be an epic collaborative effort from what we all hope will be an epic clash between two very solid teams.
The next go-round, again, should hit either later tonight or tomorrow morning with my answers to some of the questions Matt has about the Lightning.
Oh, by the way, you can also follow Matt on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog. He’s been known to get a little snooty from time to time… Not unlike, well, me, some might say?
Now then, everyone sign off and get ready for game seven between Detroit and San Jose. That, my friends, is an order!
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