Kukla's Korner

Time for Tampa Bay’s Biggest Stars to Shine in Game 6

Whether Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher goes back to Dwayne Roloson or sticks with Mike Smith in a must-win Game 6 tomorrow night, in all likelihood, won’t be the biggest factor in determining the game’s outcome. The Bolts can win in front of either netminder and each is capable of keeping the Boston Bruins at bay, so long as the team’s effort and execution in front of them is sufficient, of course.

It was last night and Smith performed admirably in defeat. Problem was, Tampa Bay just couldn’t get a puck past an All-World goalie at the other end in Tim Thomas, save for Simon Gagne’s tally 1:09 into the first period, and a single score doesn’t stand much of a chance as the lone goal in a 1-0 win at this point in the postseason.

You can’t expect to win like that – not with two teams so close to playing for the Stanley Cup and willing to do whatever it takes to score. I don’t care who the goaltender is.

Really, neither should you.

Each of the Lightning’s goalies has it in him to do the job in the Tampa Bay crease. Now, more than ever, Boucher, his staff, team management, the goaltenders themselves and the players in front of them all know that to be true.

Fans and pundits alike should accept it as well.

Because the biggest key to tomorrow night’s Game 6 for the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t be the play of either Roloson or Smith.

The difference in this one will come from Tampa Bay’s superstar trio of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos.

As well it should.

One, if not all, of the Bolts’ iconic figures has to take charge on home ice tomorrow night and will the team to where this series has long seemed destined: A make-or-break Game 7. And they must do so in the intangible department, as well as on the scoresheet.

This is not a team accustomed to jumping onto the back of any one player, nor has it ever been dependent upon the heroics of an individual and perhaps that’s exactly what’s brought them this far. The Lightning have at least one goal from every regular forward this postseason and only Victor Hedman and Mike Lundin remain as full-time defensemen without a single tally. They’ve enjoyed playoff breakouts from the likes of Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Dominic Moore and Teddy Purcell and veterans Gagne and Ryan Malone have stepped in at clutch times as well.

But this ever-resilient team also has the kind of marquee names, two of whom were a huge part of the franchise’s Stanley Cup championship of 2004 and another as lethal a scoring threat as there is in all the league, that can take their games to a level most others can’t. The Lightning, on the heels of Thomas’ latest shining performance, need that kind of showing from their best players.

Give credit to the Bruins – to Thomas, to Zdeno Chara and to Patrice Bergeron, namely – for shutting down Tampa Bay’s biggest offensive weapons of late. Since the firewagon style of Game 2’s 6-5 Boston win, where Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos combined for three goals and nine points, Lecavalier and Stamkos have one assist apiece and St. Louis hit an empty net at the end of Game 4. That’s it.

And that’s not enough from your three top guys.

Can we expect all three to explode, a la Game 2? No, most likely, we can’t. Each team has done a better job of clamping down since then, though a rash of turnovers form both sides in Game 4 did set things back a bit.

But we can – and we should – expect all three to bring everything they have and then some to an all-important Game 6.

That means making an impact, in one way or another, on every shift. It means opening up time and space for others. It means creating scoring chances.

And, at some point, if the Lightning are going to win tomorrow night, it means one or more of these three finding the back of the Bruins’ net.

It will remain a team effort, just as Bolts’ brass has preached it should all year long. The goaltending will have to be solid and the defense tight. The depth forwards will have their shared responsibilities as well and a little secondary scoring lift certainly wouldn’t hurt the cause.

But as calls for upper-echelon players to rise to the occasion go, this is about as glaring an example as you’ll ever find.

Any one of Tampa Bay’s captain, its heart and soul or its premier superstar of the present and future has it within them to be that singular difference-maker when the Lightning need them to be at the St. Pete Times Forum tomorrow night.

And if one or more can come through in the biggest game this franchise has seen since June 7, 2004, that means a Game 7 in Boston on Friday.

JJ on Twitter

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


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