Steven Stamkos Getting Hot at Right Time, Leading Tampa’s Terrific Trio As Lightning Look to Crack Tim Thomas in Game 7

Steven Stamkos Getting Hot at Right Time, Leading Tampa's Terrific Trio As Lightning Look to Crack Tim Thomas in Game 7 It’s win or go home for the Bruins and Lightning, who meet for Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final on Friday night in Boston.

FoxSportsFlorida.com’s Paul Kennedy provides a Tampa Bay perspective on the big game.

NESN.com: Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis combined for eight points in the Lightning’s Game 6 win. How important was getting production out of those three with Tampa Bay’s back against the wall?

Paul Kennedy: Monumental. And the trio’s production came in the opening seconds. They weren’t fooling around. Vincent Lecavalier‘s first faceoff of the night offered an offensive zone draw against Boston’s Chris Kelly just 30 ticks into the game. Vinny positioned linemate Teddy Purcell directly behind him and proceeded to rake the puck to Purcell. Teddy — with time and space — unleashed the game’s first goal. Captain my captain, Lecavalier should have been granted two assists, one for his sharpness of mind.  

Flashing forward to the goal Steven Stamkos scored in the third, here was one of the most memorable of the entire season, not just this series-tying win. On a power play that bridged from an Andrew Ference crosscheck late in the second period, Marty St. Louis went so hard to the net that he ended up taking shelter behind Bruin goalie Tim Thomas, inside the cage. A quick glance to his left and Marty could see Stamkos unloading a bomb in his direction.

Incoming!

Stamkos scored, with Marty curled up inside the twine as the puck arrived. Note to NHL Marketing: you could sell that seat.

St. Louis and his protégé, Stamkos, combined for three goals and three assists while Lecavalier had two helpers. Add a two-goal night from Purcell and you see the varied firepower that Boston must deal with.

The most dangerous trio still standing in the quest for the Stanley Cup now heads to Boston. Head coach Guy Boucher, the man with an earned masters degree in psychology, instructs that any focus on a game’s significance reflects a fear of failure. Live in the present and play ferociously. One cannot be afraid to lose. 

When he hits the ice in Boston Friday, Stamkos will be appearing in his 18th playoff game this spring.  That’s nearly a quarter of an entire regular season. Consider the fact that Stammer had never experienced a Stanley Cup playoff game until his first shift in Pittsburgh in April. From what we saw in Game 6, no man has matured more in a month. And Stamkos is a Lindsay Award finalist as the 2010-11 MVP. His all-around demeanor, determination and maturity is measurably developed. 
 
NESN.com: After the Bruins did a pretty good job of neutralizing the Tampa Bay power play in the early going, the Bolts exploded with three power-play goals on Wednesday. What did they do so well with the man advantage?

PK: Let’s be clear, throughout this series, Claude Julien and the Bruins did an extraordinary job of limiting the NHL’s most dangerous power play. A grand succession of 240 minutes killed, a run of 11 straight man-advantages erased. Since the regular season began way back in October, nobody in the league matched that success, but hockey’s law of averages eventually prevailed. The Physics of the Cosmos were reaffirmed. Continuous pressure finally produced a reaction that may change the course of this series. 

First, and most importantly, let us be reminded that Tampa Bay — held to only four measly shots on goal across the span of the entire first period in Game 6 — also killed three Boston power plays before ever enjoying the man-advantage. The Lightning trailed 2-1 to open the second, Roloson appeared vulnerable, and Guy Boucher had already burned his lone timeout. The Bruins, for all the postgame applause for Zdeno Chara being an effective net presence and the Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton trio delivering offensively, had just let the Prince of Wales trophy slip away. That was their window of opportunity closing.

This game could have been over before the Lightning throttled up on their first power play. Now Tampa Bay went a-whaling, and “thar’ she blows!”

It was not one unit, but two, that delivered for Boucher’s Bolts. More pressure on Tim Thomas than is exerted against the Hoover Dam. And look at where the goals were unleashed — in traffic. None were soft perimeter shots. Honest, valiant assaults on the cage. St. Louis ended the power play outage with a backhand rebound, with assists to Stammer and Vinny. And the leading lights were followed by the chorus.  Here was Teddy Purcell six minutes later, and bulldog Steve Downie offered the helper.  And when the third period opened, Tampa Bay swelled the lead to 4-2 just half a minute in, and it was Stamkos finally on the scoreboard. 

We mentioned prior to Game 6 he was overdue. Stammer, a streaky scorer, has a vicious one-timer from the left circle and his wrist action is other-worldly. A snapping release. That shotgun is loaded for Friday night.   

NESN.com: Dwayne Roloson looked kind of shaky at times. That said, the Lightning did a good job for most of the night to limit the Bruins’ shots and scoring chances. What kind of adjustments has Guy Boucher made to help slow down Boston’s offense?

PK: That the start of the game was delayed as Dwayne Roloson’s right skate was being sharpened was a harbinger to me of a bumpy road ahead for Tampa Bay’s netminder, who’d been pulled twice and benched once in this series. But Roloson got a lot of help on this night in backstopping the Bolts to a decisive Game 7.

Tampa Bay was frequently first on the puck and also bettered Boston in the faceoff circle, even to the point of scoring off that opening minute draw. That the Bolts were badly outshot in the opening period when Rolly was merely sufficient and trailed by a goal was a major turning point on the night. Guy’s succinct postgame response in assessing Rolly’s play was: “He gave us a chance to win. That is all we asked.” 

And about all you got.

May we suggest that the men who played in front of him deserve tremendous credit for closing shooting lanes and forcing passes rather than shots. What elevates the NHL above all other leagues at playoff time is the collective and total commitment to team success. It is without limit. On Wednesday, Boucher defined it well when he said, “I ask players all the time, ‘Are you willing to break bones to block a shot?'”

Think about that for a moment.  This is not fun and games. It’s a sacrificial mindset.

Throughout the night — and especially in exhausting all but one of Boston’s five power plays — there were Bolts avoiding “the Flamingo” by keeping both skates on the ice when a rocket was shinbone bound. Sliding defensemen putting their noggins in front of one-timers. Bulldozers on skates shoving B’s away from Rolly’s obstructed view.

For those who presume that this series pits Boston’s toughness against Tampa Bay’s flying forwards, the Game 6 stat sheet reports the Bolts outhit the Bruins 23-18. They blocked more shots at 16-11. And even though both teams took five minor penalties, the Lightning outgunned the B’s across 60 minutes, 26-20.  

If you didn’t get Dwayne Roloson on this night, you’re not going to get him.

NESN.com: The Lightning have been here before, and worse even, as they came back from down 3-1 in the first round against Pittsburgh to win the series. What makes them so good when they’re up against it?

PK: A long time ago (back in April 27, exactly one month to the day of the Eastern Conference Game 7 in Boston) in a land far, far away (in Pittsburgh, as a matter of fact), Tampa Bay faced a Game 7 on the road. Against the wall of sound from a roaring crowd and the Penquins competitive fire, Roloson recorded a 36-save shutout in a 1-0 Lightning win. 

Immediately after the final horn, I asked him to rate this win.

“Nothing different than the one before,” the 41-year-old replied. “Just a win.”

So much for sis-boom-bah and the thrill of victory. Roloson has seen it all and little moves the emotional meter. But that is to Tampa Bay’s advantage, and a major reason why he backstopped the Bolts to eight consecutive playoff wins after trailing the Pens three games to one in the opening series. 

Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis both have their named engraved on hockey’s Silver Chalice because they, too, are survivors of a Stanley Cup clinching opportunity in Calgary in 2004. The Flames failed to close them out and Vinny and Marty made them pay, returning home to capture the Cup. From that experience has come the capacity to compartmentalize the emotion and external pressure of the moment.

And who is to say that a bit of naivety is not in play with half a roster that’s never been in the postseason before, much less this far. What a party. Nobody expected the Bolts to climb this far.  Tampa Bay is playing with house money.  
 
NESN.com: Who wins Game 7 and why?

PK: Friday night the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning play for the Esposito Trophy. Bruin Hall of Fame legend Phil Esposito leading Boston to its last Stanley Cup in 1972. Twenty years later, Espo founded the Lightning, which captured the 2004 title — and Phil has the ring to prove it. 

You’ve probably heard Espo’s comments that he doesn’t care about the Bruins. But knowing him, I am convinced he cares very deeply. His No. 7 retired and flying in the TD Garden rafters means much to him, and to all of us who have followed this team since its arrival into the league, for we have pointed to the Bruins as representing tradition and class. But Phil admires the men who play for the Lightning now, and he sees that these Bolts are fully capable of capturing the Cup.

Tampa Bay wins. There is an amazing synergy within this organization. New ownership, front office realignment, and the growth of a roster to compliment its stars has the Lightning returning to Boston for a Winner Take All Game 7.

The Bolts defense and netminding has proven it can slow Boston. The B’s will need for Thomas to be near perfect. They have won three times in this series, twice when Tim was terrific. A third after being scorched for five goals. Tampa Bay will put a big number on the board Friday and — true to tradition — refuse to touch the Prince of Wales Trophy.

Thanks again to Paul Kennedy for answering our questions. You can read more from Paul by clicking here. Please check back before every game of the Bruins-Lightning series for more Across Enemy Lines. You also can read NESN.com Bruins reporter Douglas Flynn’s contributions to this feature on FOXSportsFlorida.com.

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