By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON A huge key to slowing down the Tampa Bay Lightning is short-circuiting the high octane power play thats been so good for them this season. It's a challenge Boston will have to face without Patrice Bergeron.
The 25-year-old center is one of Bostons best penalty killers when healthy, and his loss will hamper an already struggling PK unit. Boston has allowed 8 power-play goals in 41 chances during the playoffs, an 80.5 percent success rate that's better than only the Detroit Red Wings (76.7 percent) among playoff teams still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has already tapped David Krejci as Bergerons replacement on the penalty kill -- a move that's been a long time coming for the playmaking center.
Krejci has been actively campaigning to get back on the PK squad since he was relieved of special-teams duty following the trade of Blake Wheeler to the Atlanta Thrashers. Wheeler and Krejci were penalty kill partners, and Julien chose to utilize the Czech Republic native in more of an offensive role.
There is no doubt David Krejci has been a pretty good penalty killer, said Julien. Since we have a lot of penalty killers, we tried to save him more for the offensive side of our game. We are able to come back with him after killing a penalty, and his line has been coming out. So you have to use David on the penalty kill and thats things you have to adjust with. Mark Recchi has been able to bail us out too in regards to that.
We are going to have to utilize certain guys. Depending on how many penalties we get too, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell can almost start it, get a rest and go back out there again. Maybe we do a little bit more of it. We are going to try to utilize our personnel as best we can in regards to that and make sure the penalty kill stays good. At the same time, I think we want to make sure we have players doing the job and doing it properly.
Now that Krejci is back hell likely join Marchand along with the pairs of Gregory CampbellDaniel Paille and Rich PeverleyChris Kelly in holding Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis at bay over the next couple of weeks. Perhaps there will even be a bit more counter-punch capability while short-handed if an offensively adept force like Krejci is out there on the PK.
But Job No. 1 will clearly be keeping Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier from adding to the seven power play-goals those three have amassed in the first 11 postseason games. The Bolts have a 26.7 percent success rate and have averaged more than a power-play goal per playoff game. They lead the entire playoff field with 12 power-play goals thus far in the Cup playoffs.
The biggest special-teams challenge will come in slowing down St. Louis, who can be wildly unpredictable and creative on the man advantage with his speed and playmaking abilities. Sometimes St. Louis will create from the half-wall and other times hell decide to do same damage down low with the big bodies.
Theyve always been a team that can score and kill you on the scoreboard, but theyre built a lot more solidly now from the goaltender out, said Campbell. Their top guys are some of the best in the league, so when you have that combination its obviously going to work on the power play.
Theyve always had a power play that I wouldnt call unstructured, but they move parts in and out. Its tough to defend that when St. Louis is sometimes on the point and sometimes hes down low. To have a game plan is probably a little tougher than other teams, and they have a lot of weapons.
So the Bs havent been all that successful in completely shutting down the Habs and Flyers in their first 11 games, and will need to improve if they hope to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Shutting St. Louis and nudging Stamkos off his one-timer spot at the right faceoff dot are the biggest keys once a penalty has been called.
Of course, the best way to avoid power-play damage is to avoid penalties altogether.
Discipline is always going to be the key word that every team is always going to use in the playoffs obviously, said Julien. But there are going to be penalties. In a series there always are. Our PK is going to have to come up big for us and we know that.
"The power play has been pretty good and theyve got some pretty highly skilled players on those power plays, whether its shots or playmaking . . . good presence in the front of the net. They seem to have that going very well for them.
Nobody has been able to slow down the Lightning from striking on the power play in the postseason, and that will be one of the big factors to unravel the Bruins if they do end up falling in the series.
Its up to the Bs special teams crew to slow down an All-Star power play crew in Tampa, and theres no easy way around it.
Nate Thompson was a captain for the Providence Bruins during his three plus years with the P-Bruins after getting drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 draft. He played with current Bs David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Adam McQuaid during his time in the Bs organization. But Thompson finally blossomed into a gritty, third-line center this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and finished the regular year with 25 points (10 goals and 15 assists) in 79 games.
Thompson became a staple on the bottom-six forwards along with Sean Bergenheim and Dominic Moore, and he gives the Lightning a combination of grit and offensive finish behind all of their bright stars.
Julien said Thompson is blossoming into the player the Bs always envisioned hed become, which has been to Tampa Bays benefit after he signed there as a free agent two years ago.
Hes always been a hard-working, dedicated individual, said Julien. He was a great person as well. There wasnt much to not like about Nate. Im happy hes found a place to play . . . Tampa Bay seems to be a really good fit for him.
"Although you compete against each other, there are certain times where youve got to look at the individual and say Im glad he got rewarded for all his hard work. Thats certainly what I think about Nate. Unfortunately organizations make decisions based on what they can or cant do. We didnt have a choice but to put him on the waivers when we did, and he got picked up because he was a good player.
Tomas Kaberle hasnt been the answer man for the Boston power play though the Bruins have scored PP goals in each of the last two playoff games but Julien thinks the smooth-passing defenseman can be a key against the trap-happy Lightning.
Kaberles passing and vision through the neutral zone is exactly what can help pick apart the 1-3-1 trap defense employed by Lightning coach Guy Boucher, and his ability to carry the puck will be vital if the Bolts switch to a 1-2-2, as they did during the first regular-season meeting of the two teams.
Some of this new importance for Kaberle has to be tempered by the fact that his minutes have consistently gone down throughout the playoffs while Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference have picked up the slack.
Kaberle can definitely be a good asset," said Julien. "Thats one of his strengths: passing and finding those seams. Ive found that his game in regards to that has been pretty good. He has been moving the puck pretty well through neutral zones. People have had a tendency to be hard on him because they probably expected more.
"Were one of those groups that we know we can bring some of those good assets to our power play. We can help him through that. But he still has a decent player as far as his passing is concerned: moving pucks through seams and making those right plays in those tight areas.
Checked in with one of the Bs equipment guys, and the team has ordered roughly 150 Reebok sticks for center Patrice Bergeron as hes literally snapped dozens of expensive sticks during the regular season and playoffs. My loyal readers can do the math, but thats some serious scratch that the Black and Gold are spending on sticks that continuously shatter at an amazing rate.
Brad Marchand was asked by the assorted media if he remembered a time in his career when he started acting up and agitating opposing teams. The birthday boy, who turned 23 years old Wednesday, didnt have a very good answer.
I dont know, said Marchand after some quick thinking. I think maybe I was just born this way.
From the Bruins' P.R. department:
The Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Boston Bruins with the Environmental Merit Award during a special ceremony at Boston's Faneuil Hall on Tuesday afternoon. The Environmental Merit Award honors individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts to preserve the region's environment. Boston Bruins Foundation Director of Development Bob Sweeney accepted the award on behalf of the Bruins organization.
At the start of the 2010 -11 season, the Bruins joined the NHL's green initiative and partnered with Rock and Wrap It Up! to help fight hunger throughout the United States and Canada. The Boston Bruins committed to work with Rock and Wrap it Up! to pack up all prepared but unsold concession food and give it to local shelters and places in need citywide. To date, the Bruins have donated 4,950 meals and 6,950 pounds of food to the Boston Rescue Mission. Including TD Gardens contributions, a cumulative total of 15.5 tons of food has been donated to the Boston Rescue Mission.