Kukla's Korner

Opposing Viewpoint: Kalman on the Inimitable Thomas, Ups & Downs of Horton, Steady Seidenberg & 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’s our latest banter, where Matt and I discuss the heroics of Tim Thomas, Nathan Horton’s penalty troubles versus offensive production, what Dennis Seidenberg means to the Boston defense and much more…

***

JJ: Well, by my count, this series has seen a one-sided contest, an offensive showcase, a shutout, a turnover-filled comeback and now, last night’s tightly-contested thriller. In my opinion, Game 5 was the best hockey we’ve seen so far, looking at the two teams, collectively that is. All that tells me absolutely nothing, in terms of what to expect in Game 6.

The screws are really to the Lightning now, though, as they’ll have no choice but to stave off elimination at home tomorrow night - or spend a summer thinking, “What if?”

One of those “What if?” moments will surely be, “What if Steve Downie’s shot was an inch up or down when Tim Thomas made that incredible, sprawling stick save in the third period?” That’s the kind of save that nightmares are made of, at least on one side. As for the other, well, sometimes that’s the kind of play that becomes an iconic championship image, if you know what I’m saying.

Regarding Thomas, unless either of their netminders has a shutout in them (which no team in their right mind would ever be counting on at any time), the Bolts are going to have to figure out a way to get more than just one goal past the Bruins super goalie. We joked about Super Seguin earlier in the series (which we aren’t allowed to do anymore, apparently) but we all know it’s Thomas underpants that Superman truly wears (and probably the “footy” kind). The Lightning have put up goals on Thomas before, of course, but as this series goes on, Thomas seems to be getting stronger to me - and that’s a scary proposition for Tampa Bay.

Do I have that pegged right? Is Tim Thomas what I think he is - a big-time, money goaltender, who only gets better with more on the line? Aside from that, you can’t help but like the guy. The way he handled his words being spun into a guarantee after Game 4, for example, has me chuckling. But back on point: Thomas was better, I thought, last night than he was in the Game 3 shutout, coming through in the clutch for the B’s time and again. Do you agree? And, if so, what is it (aside from the super powers) that allows this guy to elevate his game as the intensity builds around him?

MK: We now know that Tim Thomas is a money goaltender. Leading up to this year, we weren’t sure. In fact, remember, we didn’t know if Thomas would ever be an NHL No. 1 ever again after he sat behind Tuukka Rask last season and then had summertime hip surgery. Prior to that, he lost in Game 7 of the playoffs – one first-round, one second round – the previous two seasons. Now we know that all the battling Thomas has done to make himself into a guy on the verge of a second Vezina Trophy in three years can translate to the ice. He’s got nothing to lose at this point after making himself into an all-world goaltender at such a young age. That shows in his ability not only to play great but to overcome distractions and disappointment when things aren’t going well. This is a guy that won a 6-5 game and was actually lauded as a star. He gives up a goal on his first shot in Game 5 and then closes the gate.

Thomas is a battler and a guy who’s thrived on proving people wrong. Now that he’s pretty much convinced everyone he’s for real, he seems to be able to relish the fact that everything from here on out is icing. So he doesn’t welt under pressure.

Thomas loves traffic and guys crashing the net. But that’s really the only thing the Lightning can do is continue to make life hard on Thomas and get a couple past. Then they can also hope that the Bruins revert to their giveaway-prone ways and that the inconsistent offense returns to a low point for Game 6.

As for the “guarantee” you and I know that was a load of bear turds. I’d like to know what any other player on either side would say if they were asked by a wise-guy TV reporter: “How do you see this series going?” If it was such a bold “guarantee” I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t have laughed as loud as he did right after.

But if you and the rest of the folks in the Sunshine State want to run with the “guarantee” storyline, then heck, by all means do so. Because in that case, he backed it up.

JJ: I was square in the middle of my latest round of Nathan Horton-bashing, with the Boston forward seemingly continuing his never-ending quest to take dumb penalty after dumb penalty, when he made me eat a little crow by coming up with a huge goal to tie things early in the second. Even so, you have to admit this guy is repeatedly putting himself in a bad position that leads to the calls against him. The second interference penalty may have been a marginal infraction, at best, but he’s not in a good spot there, positionally, and he needs to be more aware.

Maybe that’s just a take the good with the bad kind of situation that Bostonians are going to have to get used to with Horton. Is it something you’ve seen since his arrival in Beantown or is it just something that’s popped up in these playoffs or, more specifically, this series even? Because I don’t seem to remember him wearing the dunce’s cap so often during his days in Florida (which, admittedly, were far more off the radar).

MK: Horton never had the passion that he has now when he was wearing a “scaredy cat” on his chest. It took him a while to even learn it with Boston. Now he’s in a constant battle to stay on the right side of the line. During the season he even had a handful of fighting majors after not fighting at all for a few years with Florida. Some were justified and some made no sense based on the time in the game and/or the opponent.

Nonetheless, the Bruins are definitely going to take Horton’s penalties as long as he’s scoring timely goals and also throwing his weight around legally. At this point, they take whatever they can get from that No. 1 line.

After seven years without playing in the NHL playoffs, Horton had a lot of pent up excitement. He’s letting it all out while he can and let’s face it, the Bruins are 10 times better on the penalty kill than the power play, so maybe Horton is going to the box by design to get the team going… Well, not really but that would make as great a storyline as “Thomas says it’s easy to play against the Lightning” if I could just fabricate it the right way and get the right blow-dried TV person to read it.

JJ: I thought Zdeno Chara had his best game of the series last night and, as a bit of an aside, I thought Tomas Kaberle was a lot better as well. (Listen: If I’m going to tear the guy up when he’s been, well, beyond-God-awful, I have to give credit when it’s due and, even just a little, it is here.)

But the defenseman that I was most impressed with in Game 5 was Dennis Seidenberg, who ate up upwards of 29 minutes and earned third star honors for his efforts. Can you talk a little bit about what he’s been able to bring to the table for the Bruins’ defense? I know you mentioned that he’s been a fine compliment to Chara since becoming a Bruin but those kind of minutes do so much for a defense corps as a whole and I’m sure Seidenberg’s presence lessens the load for all.

MK: Dennis Seidenberg is the No. 2 defenseman that Boston thought it had when it traded for Kaberle. He does it all, in all situations, and is the type of guy every championship team has on the back end logging major minutes, blocking shots and doing everything to win. He had an up-and-down regular season and at times looked overpaid. Now the Bruins are excited they were the first team to give this guy a long-term contract after numerous injury-plagued years in Philly, Phoenix and Carolina.

Head coach Claude Julien refereed to Seidenberg as a horse earlier in these playoffs. So maybe we should call him “Secretariat Seidenberg” and hope he keeps making hay on the back end (Ouch!). [JJ Note: Biff Tannen called. He wants his anything resembling “Make like a tree and leave” utterances back. And this one qualifies…]

***

Later tonight, my return fire to Matt’s latest inquiries, posted here and at TheBruinsBlog.net.

JJ
jj@kuklaskorner.com
JJ on Twitter

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

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