BOSTON, MA - MAY 14: Tim Thomas #30 of the Boston Bruins makes a second period save against Steve Downie #9 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 14, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
WHERE: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
WHEN: 8 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Versus, CBC, RDS (television), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Stanley Cup of Chowder, Something's Bruin, The Hub of Hockey, Bruins Zone
Let me start this on a personal note: Seven years ago, I was writing independently at Boltsmag (if you click-through, you will see an error I have yet to correct with the database, so it's not worth your time). I started my conversation about the Lightning in February of 2004. That season, the team brought me and other Bolts fans to a destination that I never thought I would see: contention for, and then ultimately winning the Stanley Cup. It was a dream season for this fan, and something I will never forget.
There have been a number of comparisons between the 2003-04 Tampa Bay Lightning and this season's squad... And really, all I can see is the contrast: Instead of living up to the expectations of a #1 seed, as the 2003-04 team did in their conquest, the current squad has accomplished exactly what you hear over and over again among the hockey faithful: Once a team makes the playoffs, anything can happen.
They're exactly one win away from the Stanley Cup Finals. You can't tell me you expected this in September.
The Eastern Conference finale is tonight, and before I get into the preview, I'd like to repeat something I wrote before the Lightning faced the Philadelphia Flyers in game 7 at the St. Pete Times Forum on May 22, 2004:
Potentially, sixty minutes of hockey is all that is left for one of these teams. A bitter resentment of how close they came will be all that lingers for the next three months....as they prepare themselves both mentally and physically to try, try again...
And the winner? The winner gets the chance at glory -- to realize boyhood dreams or to re-live them that they once experienced in a different town, among different people. Nothing is certain as any sports fan can tell you.
Throw out your clichés, for there truly is no tomorrow for the loser... The quest for Lord Stanley's Cup ends for all but one in the Eastern Conference tonight.
The 2011 Eastern Conference champion will be crowned, the Prince of Wales Trophy will be awarded, and the Stanley Cup Finals match-up will be determined.
It's Game 7. Game on.
Sean Bergenheim's status is still undetermined for tonight's game. With the unknown severity of his "undisclosed injury" (officially listed as such, but everyone assumes it's his groin), he'll be a game-time decision for tonight at best.
While that takes some wind out of our sails, props are overdue to Blair Jones, who has served admirably in limited action with the Lightning during the playoffs. Jones has played in 3 of seven games, and while his ice time has been limited (he played less than 7 minutes in game 6, and hadn't broken the 5:30 mark in two previous games), he shows a fearlessness that fits the Boucher system well.
Fearlessness is one thing, scoring touch is another... And while Sean Bergenheim is hurting, Teddy Purcell has stepped up. Actually, Purcell has been stepping up for a while now. The once-afterthought forward has been a force since mid-season. In the playoffs, he has racked up 17 points in 17 games (6 goals, 11 assists).
Whomever is playing for the Lightning, they still have to deal with Tim Thomas between the pipes for the Boston Bruins. And while Thomas has proven himself mortal in this series -- having a 3.50 GAA in 6 games played, giving up 5 goals tothe Lightning in 4 of those contests -- he's also proved himself frustratingly formidable. The key to advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals will be to knock Thomas off his game (again) and get under his skin.
In other news, Nathan Horton as well as the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise will not face disciplinary action for incidents after game 6... Which is another inconsistency and weakness of the Colin Campbell regime and the general NHL regarding keeping teams in line. This is not singling out Horton in cries of "Bloody murder!", this is pointing fingers at both the Lightning for ill promotional planning that turned to anarchy as well as Horton for his altercation with a fan. At the very least, both the player and the club should be fined.
But the Wheel of Justice has spoken, and Club Two-Minutes Sees all and knows / does nothing.
Once again, there will e a watch party outside the St. Pete Times Forum for tonight's game. Fans are advised to arrive an hour and a half before game time.