The Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Tampa Bay has been many things: entertaining, fast-paced, well-played, sloppily-played, physical. However, if I had just one word to describe this series, it would be unpredictable.
Just when it seems one team has something figured out (as Tampa did in Game 1 and the early parts of Game 3, and as Boston did after winning Game 3 (2-0) and taking a 3-0 lead after one period of play in Game 4) the opposing team finds a way to fight back. Both teams have shown tremendous resiliency and determination, as well as the ability to adapt to what the opposition is doing (Sorry to the Claude Julien haters out there – he has shown the ability to make adjustments to what Tampa is doing).
So what to expect for Game 5? Who knows? About all anyone can predict is the game will be full of surprises, and that neither team is out when they may appear to be.
Four things the Bruins must do to win Game 5 …
Protect the puck: Boston seemed to figure out how to do this in Games 2 and 3 and the early part of Game 4, rarely turning the puck over in the defensive or neutral zones. However, turnovers led directly to three of the four goals Tampa Bay scored on Tim Thomas in the Game 4 comeback.
Put Game 4 out of their mind: Boston has been great at doing this all season. A number of times, the Bruins were blasted, blew a lead, or just looked awful, only to roar back with a win the next game. You can never assume the Bruins are done, as they have been great when counted out or their backs are against a wall.
Get production out of Krejci, Lucic, and Horton: These three were worse than invisible on Saturday, as Krejci and Lucic turned the puck over to lead to Lightning goals, and Krejci was slow to react to Sean Bergenheim after Bergenheim dropped Tomas Kaberle before wheeling out in front to score the tying goal. The line combined for two shots on goal – not what you need from your supposed top line.
Limit Kaberle’s minutes: I’m not sure who plays more, as Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara already have been playing near or above the 30-minute mark in games, but someone needs to step up as Kaberle has looked slow and unmotivated in the first four games. Either he needs to play better, or he needs to play less than he has been, which means less than 10 minutes. Scratching Kaberle really is not an option, as neither Shane Hnidy or Steve Kamfer are the answer. If anyone in the B’s organization thought they were, they would have been in the lineup by now.
Three things Tampa Bay must do to win Game 5 …
Stay physical: Ryan Malone and Bergenheim were physical forces in Game 4, with Malone mixing it up with Chara on numerous actions. Tampa’s forecheck works best with energy and physicality, as the Lightning proved in period 2 of Game 4. When TB forces turnovers, it scores goals.
Get good goaltending: Whether it’s Mike Smith or Dwayne Roloson, the Bolts need their goalie to make the saves they should make. My bet is Roloson gets the nod, but with a short leash. Smith has played well, and made the save of the series on Chara in Game 4.
Get production from role players: Boston has done a good job of containing Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, and Vincent Lecavalier. However, it has struggled with the likes of Teddy Purcell, Bergenheim, Brett Clark, and Steve Downie. Those four (if Downie plays) are the key to Tampa’s success.
Two guys who could make the difference tonight …
Nathan Horton: When Horton plays well, the Bruins win. When he doesn’t, the Bruins usually lose. He needs to get active early, get physical early, and get on the board. A strong game from Horton will help his linemates as well.
Ryan Malone: He was a physical force in Game 4, and created a turnover and set up Simon Gagne’s game-winner. He also appears to be in the head of Chara.
One prediction: I really have no idea what will happen tonight, as both of these teams have played well at times and both have been incredibly resilient. Boston has always played great when Claude Julien is being scrutinized, and he has been getting destroyed in the papers and on sports radio since about 4 p.m. Saturday. For that reason alone, I’m going with a 3-2 Boston win. However, this series looks more and more like it will go to a seventh game, which fans of the Vancouver Canucks have to love.
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Topics: Boston Bruins, Brett Clark, Claude Julien, David Krejci, Dennis Seidenberg, Dwayne Roloson, Martin St. Louis, Mike Smith, Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, Ryan Malone, Sean Bergenheim, Simon Gagne, Steve Downie, Steven Stamkos, Teddy Purcell, Tim Thomas, Tomas Kaberle, Vincent Lecavalier, Zdeno Chara