2011 Eastern Conference Finals: Tampa Bay Lightning (5) vs. Boston Bruins (3)


For so long, it seemed outright inevitable: Boston may have been back in the pack in the early Eastern Conference standings, but that was with thanks to the lack of games-played compared to Philadelphia, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Point-production wise? Boston was a juggernaut, but a juggernaut that started the season in Europe and therefore had a slow October and November.

Oh, and a juggernaut with the tandem of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask as their goaltenders. Harsh. And formidable.

But as the season progressed, the Bruins caught up games-wise with the rest of the Eastern Conference and didn't keep the same pace with the other conference teams. Heck, the Montreal Canadiens nearly caught them in the Northeast Divisions standings before the Bruins pulled away and finished the season with 103 points.

The same point total as the Tampa Bay Lightning. And the ultimately the same record as well

But this is the second season. I've made it a point time and again to remind readers that seasonal (and series) accomplishments are moot at this point. Past tense. In the books. History.

Still, I'm not quite comfortable knowing the Lightning are shipping up to Boston. Not with the Bolts all time record of 4-22-3 with 6 ties in Beantown. Not with the team's 1-3 record against them in 2010-11, including the Boston Massacre in December, where Mike Smith and former Lightning goaltender Dan Ellis couldn't figure out what a puck was, let alone stop a shot on goal.

But here-in lies proof that this is the second season, and the previous games mean next to nothing: Dan Ellis and Mike Smith are no longer the starting tandem for the Bolts. This is Dwayne Roloson's show now.

And you know how he's played in the postseason sus-far: Like a bitter old man, beating kids off his lawn time and again.

But with the notion Dwayne Roloson has had a better goals-against average and a better save percentage than Tim Thomas during the playoffs, brings us back to statistical truth: We're back at square-one, again. The 41-year-old Roloson and the 37-year-old Thomas come into the series with a 0-0 record, a 0.00 GAA, and a .000 save percentage with 0 shots faced in 0 games.

What we can take into the next round is the fact three concussed players are noteworthy stories of the moment: Lightning LW Simon Gagne is expected to play in Game 1 (which will be either Thursday or Saturday, from what the team is expecting). Defenseman Pavel Kubina? Not so likely a start. The Boston Bruins leading scorer through the playoffs, Patrice Bergeron, is also out of action.

Gagne skated with the Bolts this morning, wearing the no-contact red-jersey. Forward Steve Downie and defenseman Randy Jones are also hurting (both presumably having issues with their ankles) but did skate on Monday. Unless something happens between now and Thursday / Saturday, both will likely be in the lineup for the series start.

The beginning of the Finals may still be in limbo, but news that Lightning fans should be interested in: Single Game playoff tickets for games 3, 4, and 6 begin Friday (tickets are already appearing on various re-sale networks). We'll have the press release from the team later this afternoon If you have the means of getting to Boston, or perhaps you are already up there, tickets for games at TD Garden have already been put on sale by the Bruins.

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Eastern Conference Finals prediction

Tampa bay in 4 Games26
Boston in 4 Games15
Tampa Bay in 5 Games46
Boston in 5 Games60
Tampa Bay in 6 Games251
Boston in 6 Games175
Tampa Bay in 7 Games90
Boston in 7 Games49