Tampa Bay Faces Arena Conflicts for Bruins-Lightning Eastern Conference Finals, Schedule for Upcoming Series Could Look Different Than Usual


May 9, 2011

The Montreal Canadiens couldn’t stop the Bruins. The Philadelphia Flyers couldn’t even slow them down.

But Buzz Lightyear, Mr. Potato Head and Woody might just shut down the B’s, at least for a while.

The Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning have been patiently waiting for the Western Conference to wrap up its semifinal series since posting sweeps over the Flyers and Washington Capitals, respectively. It didn’t look like it would be a long wait, as San Jose led Detroit 3-0 and Vancouver held a 3-1 edge on Nashville when the Bruins put the finishing touches on the Flyers with a 5-1 win in Game 4 on Friday.

But the Red Wings put together a pair of 4-3 wins on Friday and Sunday to make it a 3-2 series with Game 6 on tap for Tuesday in Detroit. If the Wings win again, Game 7 is set for Thursday in San Jose.

Nashville, meanwhile, won Game 5 in Vancouver on Saturday to extend the series to a Game 6 before the Predators’ season finally came to a close on Monday.

If the Sharks can finally close out Detroit on Tuesday, there will be no issues. The Bruins can host the Lightning in Game 1 on Thursday and Game 2 on Saturday, with the series shifting to Tampa for Games 3 and 4 next Monday and Wednesday.

Getting those games in by Wednesday is vital, because that’s where Woody and Buzz come in.

The Lightning’s home rink, the St. Pete Times Forum, is booked from Thursday, May 19, through Sunday, May 22, for Disney on Ice Presents Toy Story 3.

And to think, Wayne Gretzky once called the New Jersey Devils a Mickey Mouse organization. What would the Great One think of the Lightning’s own building having so little faith that Tampa Bay would still be playing in late May that it booked Disney’s ice dancers for seven shows over four consecutive days?

If the Sharks and Wings need to settle things in a Game 7 on Thursday, the Bruins won’t be able to start their series until Saturday. That pushes Game 2 to Monday and the series won’t shift to Tampa until Wednesday for Game 3, with no available ice for Game 4 until the following Monday, May 23. That’s a heck of a long wait in the middle of a series, especially a series that followed a break of more than a week from the previous round.

The other option would be to squeeze in the first four games before Thursday, but playing back-to-back games on both Saturday and Sunday in Boston and Tuesday and Wednesday in Tampa is far from ideal, especially with Versus and NBC looking to alternate days between the Eastern and Western Conference finals.

The obvious answer would have been to open the Bruins-Lightning series on Thursday regardless of the status of the Wings and Sharks semifinal. That Game 7 would be in San Jose, so a standard 7:30 p.m. Pacific/10:30 p.m. Eastern start time would make for a perfect TV doubleheader, with the Bruins and Lightning facing off at the Garden at 7 p.m. ET.

The only fear of any overlap from the games in that scenario would be the potential for overtime in Boston. But the NHL dashed any hope for such a doubleheader by announcing Monday that Game 7 in San Jose would start at 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. ET on Thursday, eliminating the possibility of two games that night.

The Lightning may have been bailed out by a team from another part of the Sunshine State. With the Miami Heat beating the Celtics on Monday, they can close out their NBA second-round series in Miami on Wednesday and leave the Garden free for pucks on Friday. A Friday start for the Bruins could get Games 1 and 2 done by Sunday, and force just one set of back-to-backs in Tampa on Tuesday and Wednesday, which could be workable. But if the Celtics can pull out a win on Wednesday, the parquet will stay down for Game 6 at the Garden on Friday.

It all boils down to whether or not the Sharks can stop the bleeding and finally eliminate the Red Wings on Tuesday. If they can’t, this could be one very strange schedule for this series, even stranger than the opening round the Bruins played against Montreal when Rush and Lady Gaga concerts forced extra days between Games 3 and 4 and Games 5 and 6, followed by Games 6 and 7 being played on back-to-back nights in separate cities.

Of course, with Patrice Bergeron recuperating from a concussion suffered in the clinching win over Philadelphia, the Bruins might not mind a few more days before the start of the series and a nice long break in the middle to give Bergeron some more time to recover.

So does that mean Bruins fans will have a reason to root against Joe Thornton and the Sharks on Tuesday after all?

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