by Jon Jordan on 05/05/11 at 02:50 AM ET
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.
*From the Capitals’ side of things, no one should pin their latest postseason failure on Alex Ovechkin, who did everything he could in the four Washington losses. Unfortunately for the Caps, the same could not be said for several other key cogs and, especially in the playoffs, it’s about the team. But Washington’s captain and biggest star was also their best player. He is not part of the problem in D.C.
**Sean Bergenheim has been a great story all season long, really finding a home here in Tampa after a multi-year start to his NHL career with the New York Islanders that was, to say the least, frustrating at times. I’ve mentioned it countless times, at this point, but Bergenheim fit with the Lightning from the start and has been a dynamic difference-maker in the playoffs. Only now, with a share of the playoff goal-scoring lead, will a wide array of observers begin to notice. But anyone that’s been following this club for some time already knew what kind of an impact Bergenheim has made on this team at important times since his arrival. That he has elevated his game even more at this particular time of year is a testament to both he and fellow role players on this team - Nate Thompson, Dominic Moore, Adam Hall and so on - and their commitment to the betterment of the group as a whole.
***Washington head coach Bruce Boudreau was far more gracious in defeat tonight than he was after game three. On Tuesday night, the Capital bench boss tossed multiple players, by name, under the proverbial bus and moaned about the officiating, rather than accept responsibility for his team’s failures. Tonight, Boudreau credited the Lightning for their accomplishments and admitted, in not so many words, that his squad just wasn’t good enough. Much better. Now then… What becomes of Boudreau?
****What’s left to say about Lightning head coach Guy Boucher? In his first year in the NHL, he has his team far beyond where most thought they might possibly end up, four wins away from battling for the Stanley Cup. You wouldn’t know it, however, by talking to him. Not at all. Boucher does crack a well-timed joke and a smile on occasion, but hardly ever to indicate his level of satisfaction with himself or with the team. Why? From the day he arrived, Boucher claimed that he is never satisfied. He’s backed up those words all year long and that attitude, as well as the coach’s intensity and focus, has rubbed off on the players, to a man. It translates to the type of tenacity we’ve seen from the Lightning in these playoffs and it equates, at least, as we’ve now been assured, to a chance to represent the Eastern Conference in the Cup Final. Well-deserved.
Some words from others before I sign off for the evening:
Lightning forward Ryan Malone:
“It might be good to heal up the body a little bit. We push the pace in practice and I’m sure Coach (Boucher) isn’t going to let up on us.” - on what could be an extended break for the Bolts, after finishing Washington in such short order.
“Everybody’s laying it on the line, blocking shots and doing whatever it takes to win. A team becomes more of a family (in the playoffs). Everybody cares for each other here.” - on bottom line reasons for Lightning success.
“It’s a gritty line. They play in your face. That’s what the playoffs are all about, winning the one-on-one battles and getting the puck to the net. All of them are doing a great job so far.” - on the effectiveness of the line of Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore and Steve Downie.
“No, not really. No. They’re done and that’s it. We’ll take it.” - on whether or not there was any added satisfaction in sweeping the Capitals, as opposed to a longer series win.
Lightning forward Sean Bergenheim:
“I was surprised that we were able to sweep them. We were ready for a longer series.” - on his reaction to eliminating Washington in four straight.
“It doesn’t really matter who scores or who gets the most goals. It’s the wins that count. Obviously, it at least feels good to have helped the team. That’s always nice but I think, for our team, the good thing is we have depth and we can score from many lines. That’s hard on an opponent.” - on having a share of the playoff goal-scoring lead and the importance of contributions from throughout the lineup.
“We’re not where we want to be. There’s still a long way to go.” - on Tampa Bay’s satisfaction level after two playoff series wins.
“The biggest thing about him is he gets everybody to play together and play to the system. He’s very well-liked. We players felt from the start of training camp that his system and his methods, his way of teaching, it’s fun and it’s very effective.” - on head coach Guy Boucher.
Lightning owner Jeff Vinik:
“I feel terrific for the guys who worked so hard all season and everybody in the Lightning organization who went through a few difficult years and are getting rewarded with the success but, most importantly, I feel really good for the whole Tampa Bay community. That’s extremely important to me.” - on his reaction to Tampa Bay’s continued success.
“I am surprised at the speed and the level of success we’re achieving. We’re building a long-term plan here to compete at the highest level every year. It’s due to the people: To Steve Yzerman, who has brought in great people and, you know what? This is great but it’s just as great that I know we’re in great hands for the next five or ten years and more.” - on how quickly the turnaround has happened for the organization on his watch.
Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau:
“Well, they’ll have to figure that out themselves cause, evidently, we couldn’t figure it out. But don’t underestimate them. That’s what I’d say.” - on what he’d say to either Boston or Philadelphia about how to beat the Lightning.
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