By Stu Hackel
The venue will change and the delirious pace of the game may, too, but however Bruins-Lightning Game 3 unfolds, there will still be lots to look back on and admire from Tuesday’s Game 2, a 6-5 victory by Boston that knotted their series at one game apiece.
With just over a minute left in the incredible second period, the Lightning had just scored a power play goal to narrow the gap to 5-3 and was back on the attack. An enthused Mike Emrick — who had just described 19 minutes of roaring back and forth action — said over Versus, “My goodness, it’s faster than one of those table hockey games!”
Those old flat metal players could whip the big wooden puck along the perimeter while the center was in front to pick up a rebound. And, sure enough, that’s just what happened. As if on cue, Boston turned the play out of its zone and spent a good 40 seconds pressuring Tampa Bay, throwing the puck around the boards the way those tin men of the ’60s used to do. And it worked out well.
The folks at Eagle Toys Ltd. would have been happy with Emrick’s endorsement, and almost any fan watching the B’s defeat the Bolts would have approved of the game’s effervescent action. It’s no surprise that the teams’ coaches – two guys who preach a structured approach — disapproved. Where fans saw thrills, Claude Julien and Guy Boucher only saw odd man rushes and defensive breakdowns.
The Lightning’s Boucher called it “a pond hockey game…It’s your breakaway, my breakaway, your two-on-ones, my two-on-one. It might be exciting for the fans, but from the team’s perspective and standpoint, it’s not how we’ve played.”
“When the two teams start the series and they are two of the best defensive teams in the Playoffs and then you see a game like this, I don’t think anybody’s happy,” added Boston’s Julien.
So tonight, we’re likely to see something less furious, but probably no less compelling. The Bruins accomplished a great deal of what they needed to in Game 2. They came out strong and played their physical style throughout. They adjusted their play in their own zone to move the puck out quickly, using long passes up ice and rimming it around the boards to avoid Tampa Bay’s forecheck. They went hard to the net and made it a tough evening for Dwayne Roloson. They got much better puck movement on the power play, scoring twice with the extra man. And even without Patrice Bergeron, they won 56 percent of the face-offs compared to only 39 percent in Game 1. All told, that’s a strong turnaround.
Most importantly, Julien used Tyler Seguin four minutes and seven shifts more and the rookie showed the coach that his Game 1 play (goal, assist) was no fluke. The 19-year-old second overall pick of 2010 exploded with four points in the second period.
With two goals and two assists,Seguin is now the talk of Boston (here, here and here) as fans and some media members want to know why Julien had hidden him in the press box until this round. Those who follow the B’s closely know that Seguin’s defensive game had holes and his fitness level was questioned.
But the lack of playing time at the biggest point of the season motivated Seguin to start taking his training and coaching more seriously. Both Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton spoke with him about the importance of being ready if Julien need to make changes. It took Bergeron’s injury to get him into the lineup and when he got his chance, Seguin was prepared. If Bergeron comes back for Game 3, it could mean (according to Fluto Shinzawa of The Boston Globe) that Thornton, of all people, gets relegated to the press box. That will remove a big physical element from the B’s lineup.
[UPDATE - Shinzawa blogs Bergeron will be in the lineup tonight.]
But the emergence of Seguin could pose a more serious problem for Boucher. Seguin injects speed and offensive creativity into Boston’s attack and he seems to have good chemistry with Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly. They give the Bruins a third line to rival the Lightning’s Bergenheim-Moore-Downie trio. On that breakaway goal, his second in as many games, Seguin split Victor Hedman and Randy Jones; in Game 1, he went through Marc-Andre Bergeron and Mike Lundin. Boucher can’t risk putting his top pair of Mattias Ohlund and Eric Brewer out against Seguin. He’s got to save them for the B’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton.
Yet, the picture was not all rosy for the B’s. The third period showed — as Game 1 did — that the Lightning, when they play their system, are more dangerous than either the Canadiens or Flyers were. The Bolts can shred Boston’s defenses with speed and precision. The B’s defensive awareness was very spotty in Game 2 as the four breakaways they allowed in the second period indicated. Tim Thomas was fantastic on all those rushes, truly saving the series for Boston with stops like this that allowed the B’s to respond at the other end:
Still, Thomas was far from perfect for the second straight game, allowing one in between his legs (video), one on the short side in which he guessed wrong and dropped down too soon (video) and one in which he lost his usual lateral push (video). He’s surrendered nine goals in two outings and that’s not usually good enough for a goalie to help his team advance. He’s nothing if not a battler, but he’ll have to be better going forward.
The task for Tampa Bay is to continue where they left off in the third period of Game 2, rein in their pond hockey impulses, and do what earned them eight straight victories until Game 2. In their view, if they play the way they should, neither Seguin nor anyone else would get those odd man rushes and rebound chances. “Our focus has always been defense first,” Boucher said. “And when we don’t do that — we scored five goals in an opponent’s rink (and still lost) — it just proves that even if we do focus on offense, it’s not going to give us any success.”
Boucher will certainly make adjustments to the Lightning’s defensive coverage, whether it be going back to the 1-3-1, which they didn’t use much in the first two games, or some modification of the aggressive forecheck they employed in their Game 1 victory. Regardless, it doesn’t seem as if there’s much panic in Tampa Bay.
“I think it’s how you come back the next game or it’s how you bounce back that shows what type of team you are and the character that you have in a team. And I really think we’ve been doing well,” Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said yesterday. “We realize that it’s a series. It’s not one game. It’s a series, and, you know, you’re not going to win all your games. So you gotta make sure that …when you don’t win, then you bounce back and you play solid the next game.”
Lecavalier’s four points in Game 2, a franchise record, were overshadowed by Seguin’s performance. He’s far less concerned with that than with rebounding from the result of Game 2. “Playoffs are,” he said, “like…roller coaster rides.”