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Bourne Blog: The 5 most compelling storylines for Game 7

by Tony on May 31st, 2011

As is the case with most hockey fans, I’m jacked for Friday night’s Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins matchup. There’s the obvious reason — it’s Game Freaking 7 of the Eastern Conference final, so the winner is going to get a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But there’s more, too. Something about Friday night’s contest is just oh-so-compelling, and because I’m a really terrific guy, I’m going to lay out the top-five reasons why for you.

1. "Evenly matched" is an understatement

This gem of a nugget comes from Ted Starkey on Twitter (which it’s probably time for you to get on, person reading this who still thinks it’s silly):

The Bruins and Lightning head into Game 7 with exactly the same records ? 46-25-11 in the regular season, and 11-6 in playoffs. And to make things even more perfect, Friday night’s contest is the 100th game of the season for both teams.

So we’re 99 games in and we still don’t know which of these differently styled teams is better?

Hockey rules.

2. Nathan Horton should’ve been suspended, only we’re glad he wasn’t

First, let’s be clear on one thing in the whole Nathan Horton situation: He should have been suspended. Absolutely. You’re not even allowed to spray a fan with water anymore, let alone haul off and whip the bottle at him.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can all admit the NHL made the right call, even though it further confirms the usual claims of inconsistency (NHL Wheel of Justice has a hilarious review of the decision). Hockey fans on both sides of this great series deserve to see it played out with both rosters at their very best. His outburst had no effect on a game, and should have no effect on the series. It would’ve been a shame to see a team short-handed over something so utterly meaningless in the context of actual hockey.

So now we get to sit back and watch just how much of an effect he has on Friday night’s game, and monitor the pending storm. I’m sure the NHL is praying he’s a non-factor for 60 minutes. I’m pretty sure if the guy scores the game-winner, Tampa fans are going to form that human bolt again and rain terror on NHL officials.

3. Bruins playoff history from a season ago elevates their emotional investment

As you may recall, the Bruins had a pretty good thing going in last year’s playoffs before they fumbled the ball, fell on their keys and stubbed several toes (remember that B’s fans? No? Hmm. …I don’t believe you).

That Bruins team was good. This one is better.

Expectations have been high from day one for this group, and with the late-season acquisition of playoff magician Tomas Kaberle, they went even higher. This is their second chance to put the Lightning away, and this team has to be hungry. Anything less than a win would be a failure.

The problem with all that pressure is that it leads to bad things like penalties, players running around out of position, and a lack of clear thinking. Wanting it too much is rarely a good thing in sports ? it’ll be interesting to see if they’re able to stay composed.

4. What the hell is happening in net?

How entertaining is trying to figure out what we’re going to see next from these two three goalies?

I think the main questions are: (1) Assuming Dwayne Roloson starts, will Guy Boucher have to physically stand on the ice due to the length of the leash he’ll give Roli? And (2) Can Tim Thomas and his 1980s goaltending style find a way to once again look more like Bill Ranford and less like….I dunno, some bad goalie named Bill from the ’80s?

Timmy T needs to regain his All-American Hero form. He can’t expect his team to hang with Tampa’s firepower if the score starts looking like a football game again.

Roloson is the guy who got Tampa where it is, but Mike Smith has given Guy Boucher every reason to have the hook halfway extended before the game even starts. It could be one of the rare occasions where a tender gets yanked after one goal.

5. The Lightning have the three best offensive players headed into what should be a more defensive contest. Does that mean special teams will be the difference?

Most folks would agree that the best offensive players in this series are Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Most folks would also agree that they all play for Tampa Bay.

In big games like this, things tend to tighten down. Nobody wants to be the guy to make the big mistake, so they play it safe. The Bruins can score (and have, almost the same number of goals as Tampa all year), but they don’t really have a game-breaker like the Lightning do (let alone three).

Both teams will get a few cracks at the power play, and that’s what’s scary for Boston. The Lightning’s power play is operating at a 25.2 percent clip in playoffs. The B’s are at 8.2 percent.

Tampa is killing penalties at a 92.3 percent clip in playoffs. The B’s are at 79.4 percent.

With all the emotion going into the game, it may serve in the Bruins best interest to take a few deep breaths, and avoid that penalty box. It could make or break their season.

Bonus compelling storyline: It may also be in Boston’s best interest to not get scored on in the first minute again.

Though it would be hilarious.

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