NHL Playoff Game Night: 5/27/11 Lightning at Bruins
Boston Wins the Series 4-3
Dwayne Roloson allowed 1 goal on 38 shots for the loss. He was outstanding tonight. Better than outstanding, in fact. As bad as I thought he was in Game 6, he was just that brilliant in Game 7. He gave the Lightning an opportunity to steal the win. He deserved better.
12:27 BOS Horton (8), Krejci (7), Ference (5)
Roloson was the game's third star.
This was what I feared after the Bruins won Game 5. I thought the Lightning would expend a lot of energy to win Game 6 and they might not have anything left in the tank for Game 7. It's pretty obvious that was the case, because after holding the Bruins to just 20 shots in each of Games 5 and 6, they gave up 38 tonight. Roli gave the Lightning a chance, but there was just no jump in the Lightning's legs until after Boston got the lead in the 3rd, and by then it was too late. I give the Bruins credit for sensing they had the advantage and not letting the Lightning off the hook. They threaded the needle to take a series by 1 game and 1 goal. I don't give them a snowball's chance again Vancouver, but they did what they had to to win the East.
Compounding the Lightning's problems was the bad luck of Steven Stamkos getting his nose broken on a puck to the face. Prior to taking that shot up high, Stamkos was about the only top line Lightning player who seemed to have any real jump. After returning heroically with the full face mask, Stammer was clearly laboring to breathe and experiencing a lot of discomfort. I wonder if he had been 100% if he would've had that extra step he needed to stay with Nathan Horton on the Bruins' game winning goal.
It looks like Claude Julien got rewarded big time for all his complaining after Game 6. I said after Wednesday night's tilt that I thought the Lightning's power play would give them a puncher's chance in Game 7. Unfortunately they weren't allowed that puncher's chance because of what looked like a conscious decision by the referees to call nothing in this game. Some people will claim it's somehow noble for the referees to not call anything in a Game 7 and, "Let the players decide it." The fact of the matter is that the referees gave the Bruins a big tactical advantage the second they decided to pocket their whistles. And, anyone who claims the Bruins actually played a penalty free game, and vice versa for the Lightning, is fooling themselves. I saw 2 plays that would've easily been called interference on the Bruins in any other game of the series at the start of the 3rd Period alone. I felt like it was a total act of cowardice by the referees and a complete abdication of their responsibilities to punctuate an absolutely horrendous postseason when it comes to officiating. It all was foreshadowed by their former colleague Kerry Fraser, who in a blog earlier in the playoffs rightfully pointed out "'Let them play' generally means 'Let them cheat.'"
Where do the Lightning go from here? Nowhere but up, I think. This team laid the foundation that an elite program is built on this season. There's no doubt in my mind the Lightning have the best 1-2 punch in the league at the GM and Head Coach spot in Steve Yzerman and Guy Boucher, and their brilliant moves actually put the Lightning a full year ahead of the schedule I figured they would be on. I expected this team to maybe win a round and that would be it, a la the Lightning's 2002-2003 team. They set a very high bar for excellence, and in the process their youngest stars, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, gained the kind of experience that can propel them to reach their full potential. For Hedman, in particular, I expect these 18 playoffs games to be a springboard to stardom. After a very modest regular season in his sophomore campaign, Hedman averaged over 22 minutes a game in the postseason and had a very solid even rating. The next step, in my opinion, is going to be for Hedman to see more power play time next year and the confidence he gained in these playoffs should give him poise in all phases of the game.
There will be some tough choices in the offseason for Steve Yzerman, particularly at the forward position and to a lesser extent between the pipes, but he's already shown himself to be more than up to the challenge. I expect to see the Lightning contend again next year, and for a long time into the future.
Blair Jones had 1 shot and 3 hits in 8:40. He was very good down low in the offensive zone but a little bit scary in the Lightning's end getting beaten badly off the wall on one play and making a bad decision on where to move the puck on another. That probably held him under double-digit minutes in a night where the Lightning coaching staff probably would've loved to feed him even more minutes than he got just to have some fresher legs. All that said, his 7 game run in these playoffs was successful. I don't know if the Lightning will keep him around for next year, but I do know he's probably going to be playing in the NHL somewhere next season if even half of the GM's in the league have been paying attention to the last 2 series.