Bruins, Lightning face off in Eastern Conference finals

For the first time in playoff history, the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning will meet with a berth in the Stanley Cup final up for grabs.

Both teams won hard-fought seven game series in the opening round before sweeping their opponents in the second, earning each squad some rare playoff rest.

The Bruins won the season series 3-1 but both teams enter the conference finals on a high, hoping to continue their momentum from the second round.

#3 Boston Bruins

After beating the Montreal Canadiens in seven games, the Bruins swept the Philadelphia Flyers, avenging last year’s second round collapse.

Boston returns to the conference finals for the first time since 1992, with hopes of capturing their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Patrice Bergeron, Boston’s leading scorer, is unavailable to start the series after suffering a concussion in Game 4 versus Philadelphia.

The Bruins will rely more heavily on the line of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic to carry the load and break through the Lightning’s trap.

Without improving their power play, the Bruins could struggle against Tampa’s 1-3-1 defensive system. Boston is an abysmal 5.4 per cent on the power play after opening the playoffs 0-for-30 with the man advantage.

#5 Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning, looking for their second Stanley Cup and first since 2004, swept the Washington Capitals in the second round after battling back against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Through two rounds, the Lightning have the top-ranked power play, scoring 12 power-play goals in 11 games. The team has capitalized on its opportunities while sitting back, playing coach Guy Boucher’s defensive system.

Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier won the Stanley Cup in 2004 with Tampa and the duo continue to lead the team. St. Louis leads the team in scoring with 13 points in 11 games and Lecavalier has 12 points.

Sean Bergenheim, a first-round pick in 2002, has been a pleasant surprise for the Bolts this post-season, already scoring seven goals after registering only 14 all season.

Keys to the Series

The goaltending matchup will be the most intriguing aspect of this series. It pits Tampa’s 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson against the 37-year-old Tim Thomas.

Both netminders are likely Conn Smythe candidates and continue to make a difference night in and night out.

Roloson is looking his first Stanley Cup ring. The Simcoe, Ont. native leads the playoffs with a 2.01 goals-against-average and a .941 save percentage.

While Boston won the season series, three of the games were prior to Tampa acquiring Roloson from the New York Islanders and he didn’t play in the fourth. Roloson also has experience on his side as he guided the Edmonton Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup final.

Thomas, a Vezina finalist, has never been this deep in the post-season and desperately wants a championship. The Bruins goalie is 8-3 with a 2.03 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 11 playoff games this spring.

Schedule

Saturday, May 14 at Boston, 8:00 p.m.

Tuesday, May 17 at Boston, 8:00 p.m.

Thursday, May 19 at Tampa Bay, 8:00 p.m.

Saturday, May 21 at Tampa Bay, 1:30 p.m.

*Monday, May 23 at Boston, 8:00 p.m.

*Wednesday, May 25 at Tampa Bay, 8:00 p.m.

*Friday, May 27 at Boston, 8:00 p.m.

* – if necessary

Prediction

Bruins in six