By Brian Willwerth
Doesn’t it seem like forever since these teams last played? When the puck drops Saturday night, it will have been eight days since the Bruins took the ice in a meaningful game, while the Lightning have had a 10-day break. These two teams have taken similar paths to the conference finals. Both won their opening series in seven games. Both swept their favored, second-round opponents. Both feature outstanding goaltenders.
Start with the goalies: Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson. In these playoffs, these two are the best in save percentage and goals against average. Roloson has won eight straight games. Thomas’ streak is at five. While Thomas’ spectacular play has consistently made the highlight reel, Roloson should not be overlooked.
The Bruins will be without Patrice Bergeron, at least for the start of the series. Tampa Bay will not have Pavel Kubina on defense. He’s one of three Bolts still remaining from the 2004 team that won the Cup. The other two are big-name veterans: Martin St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier.
Boston’s problems on the power play in the postseason have been well documented. The Bruins finally broke through in that category against the Flyers in Game 3, but overall this has been a weak spot. Tampa Bay’s power play has been much better; the Lightning has scored a power play goal in six of their eleven-playoff games. It’s something to keep an eye on if you’re a Bruins’ fan, flashing back to how important this was against Montreal. When it comes to killing penalties, both teams have been very good.
These teams met four times during the regular season, with the Bruins winning three of them. Of all the professional sports teams in Boston, the Bruins have risen to the top of the list, at least for the moment. Yes, the Red Sox are taking on the Yankees this weekend in the Bronx, but baseball is on the back burner for the time being.
The series begins Saturday night at TD Garden in Boston. I could easily see this series go seven games.