By Joe Haggerty
TAMPA Its no exaggeration to say that the Tampa Bay Lightning's high octane power play unit was just destroying teams over the first two rounds of the playoffs.
They led the NHL playoff field with 12 power play goals and were cranking at over 27 percent efficiency against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. It's no surprise with their many weapons. When Steve Stamkos struggled in his first playoff experience Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis carried the day.
But a little something happened on the way to the electric Bolts special teams squad pouncing all over the Bruins. They ran into a gritty, unrelenting Bs penalty kill unit that has somehow made up for their power plays impotence, and has held the Lightning to a 2-for-18 performance in the first five games against Tampa Bay.
Whats important for us to frustrate them before they even get into the zone, and to not let them set up. Once they get set up theyre bound to make plays, said Gregory Campbell. When youre killing penalties youre out there against arguably the best five players on the other team.
Our job is to limit those plays and be desperate and sacrifice. Those are big parts of a good penalty kill.
Within that 2-for-18, the Bruins have kept the Tampa power play off the board in three out of five games and actually have killed off nine straight Lightning power plays over the last three games against a high-wattage Tampa bunch.
Its the same thing. You have to play it game by game, and every game is a different story. We cant say just because yesterday was good that tomorrow will be as well, said Campbell. Youve got to have that urgency and that killer instinct every time you go out to kill a power play.
They have a dangerous power play much like Montreal did. Of course its got to do with personnel, but those guys have also been together for a long time. They know each other well, and they seem to create plays out of nothing. If you take away one option then there are other options for other guys. I know teams have really keyed on Stamkos over the last couple of years because of his shot, but how can you do that? Its like pick your poison.
Its been a big step up for the Bruins PK unit after they were gashed numerous times by the Montreal power play in the first round, and now the tandems of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, and Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell have really gained traction in the third round of the playoffs.
Paille went on a goal-scoring tear at the end of the season to really make a push for a playoff roster spot, and has been doing all of the little things during 5-on-5 play and during penalty kill situations. His strong skating ability allows him to apply heavy pressure when needed on the penalty kill, and there is just enough sandpaper in his game to make it tough on offensive skill players during the PP.
I think he's done a great job penalty killing. He's a guy that has a lot of energy, fore-checks well, puts a lot of pressure on the other team, especially up the ice, said Julien. He's done a great job of that. So this is where he's always excelled and this is what we needed from him. He's played just great in regards to that, and he's been a real important player for us as far as our penalty kill success is concerned.
Stifling the high-flying Tampa PP was the goal prior to the series getting started against Guy Boucher and his coaching staff, and the Bruins have reached the mark nearly all of the time. In a 20 minute period in Game 5, the Bs penalty killers stifled four straight Tampa power plays when the score was 1-0 and a strike by the Lightning on any of the PP possessions would have meant the real likelihood of a loss.
At one point Peverley and Kelly were both stuck out for pretty much the entire two minutes of a kill, and they managed to find some energy reserves to gut it out when the team needed their services. Those are the kinds of things that dont end up in the score sheet, but win games.
Heading into the series, we knew that they had an advantage, and that was the part of the penalty kill was very good, special teams was certainly given an edge, a good edge to Tampa's team, said Julien. We knew it had to be better in regards to both. And although our power play has scored but hasn't been the best, we've been able, with our penalty kill, to neutralize theirs to a certain extent as well.
Right now between the two teams, you know, the special teams P.K. and P.P. are about the same. So that's something that we've managed to do that was important for us. Because had we not done that, I think the series might be in a different place right now.
Julien and the Bruins know that could change at any point in the series, however, and the results would be dire for the entire team.
The Bruins killers have been desperate and resourceful during their brushes with the Lightning, and success lies with keeping that up for just a few more periods of hockey.