For Bruins in Game 7 vs. Tampa Bay, it’s kill or be killed
When it's clicking, the Tampa Bay Lightning power play doesn't look game-planned — it looks choreographed.
Players gliding to different areas of the ice with the full recognition of their teammates on passes. Forwards cutting through the slot to either set up a quick double-screen or feed to a sniper. Wicked one-timers from the likes Steven Stamkos. A mighty mite named Martin St. Louis going to the net with reckless abandon.
When it works, the Bolts look as fast and energetic on the power play as the defense trying to thwart them looks flat-footed and lethargic. And it worked to the tune of three goals on four chances in Game 6, which is the reason we have a Game 7 on Friday night between Tampa and the Boston Bruins.
And it could be the reason the Lightning are playing for the Stanley Cup next week. Unless the Bruins can kill those aspirations … and that power play.
There's been a lot of discussion of the Bruins' own power play this series, and in previous series, because it's a 5-for-61 embarrassment of epic proportions. The trade for Tomas Kaberle was allegedly going to improve it; instead, they've scored as many power-play goals (5) in 17 playoff games as the Los Angeles Kings scored in 6 games.
At this point, their power play is a write-off. It's like a Sharks fan expecting Dany Heatley to score three straight hat tricks to win the West — miracles can happen, but the percentages don't lie.
Besides, Tampa Bay is killing at a 92.3-percent clip. Which is remarkable this late in the playoffs.
Playing even on special teams meant the Bruins put themselves in a position to win 5-on-5, where they're the better team in this series. So the focus returns to the Bruins' kill against the Lightning power play, which was a battle Boston was winning until Game 6.
The Bruins are among the middle of the pack on the penalty kill in the playoffs with a 79.4 percent success rate, a shade below their regular-season average of 82.6. But they'd shut out Tampa on the power play in Games 3 through 5 when the Lightning went 0-for-11.
"I think they were having too many good looks, especially at the point," Patrice Bergeron said of Wednesday's performance. "There were some good shots. Obviously, Stamkos is a good shooter and he had two great shots. The first goal, it was kind of a scramble after that shot, but we still shouldn't allow that."
On Thursday, Coach Claude Julien was asked about the Tampa power play's success:
"I don't know, I think we have a good idea of what they're going to do on the power play. Yesterday, the power play is about creating opportunities and a little bit of luck. And there's a couple of loose pucks that came out right on their stick. And that's the way it goes, sometimes it ends up on yours and sometimes it ends up on theirs. And we can make some adjustments and we will make adjustments. And the penalty kill last night wasn't as good as it has been, but it will redeem itself because I know these guys and know this team and they normally do that."
Loose pucks and luck aside, let's focus on one improvement that's vital to the Bruins for Game 7: Their best penalty killer.
Tim Thomas was average and out of position during those power plays, failing to make key stops as his defense allowed plum chances. His shorthanded save percentage (.852) ranks him 12th in the NHL playoffs; Dwayne Roloson (.939) is fifth for Tampa.
How important is Thomas to the Bruins? Had he instead registered the same merely good .918 save percentage as his backup, Tuukka Rask, Thomas would have given up an additional 36 goals over the course of the season. That could have cost the Bruins about a dozen points in the standings ? enough to drop them from third to ninth place, out of the playoffs. In the series against Tampa Bay, however, Thomas has managed only a .905 percentage.
No matter how torrid the Lightning power play gets, Thomas can be the great equalizer if he's on. Of course, the other way to thwart the Tampa power play is to simply not give them many. From the Dennis and Callahan Show on WEEI, here's Harry Sinden:
"If we can't stay out of the penalty box, all bets are off," he said. "It's a big problem for players today, because the standard ? I'm not talking about the officials themselves ? but the standard of rule enforcement is so high, particularly during the regular season, and then they ease a bit in the playoffs, you may have noticed. You don't know from one game to another just where that standard will be. And we've all seen these what I call itty-bitty penalties called. And so the player's not quite sure just what he can do and what he can't do, and as a result, too often the players are reluctant to check hard at all."
You have to love any guy who was an NHL general manager in 1972 and still uses the term "itty-bitty."