2011 NHL Playoffs: What We Learned from Tampa Bay-Boston Games 1 and 2

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2011 NHL Playoffs: What We Learned from Tampa Bay-Boston Games 1 and 2
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Tampa Bay Lightning stormed into Boston last Saturday night to kick off the Conference Finals and ran over the hosting Bruins, winning 5-2.

However, Boston evened the count with an exciting, wide-open 6-5 victory in Game 2, highlighted by a five-goal second period that erased a 2-1 first intermission deficit.

As the series heads back to Tampa Bay tied one game apiece, we know a great deal more about this series than we did before it started. Games 1 and 2 have taught the hockey world a great deal about how the rest of the series will play out; one thing we don't know yet, though, is the winner.

The first and biggest surprise from the first two games of this unexpected Eastern Conference Finals is the fact that Tim Thomas and Dwayne Roloson are, at least when facing tough offenses like those on show here, not even close to invincible.

Thomas, who broke the record for highest save percentage in NHL history this past regular season, gave up four goals on 33 shots in Game 1 and five goals on 41 shots in Game 2, giving him a weak .878 save percentage and horrific 4.50 goals-against average (GAA) in the first two meetings of the series.

Those statistics provide a stark contrast to the fantastic numbers Thomas put up through the Conference Quarterfinals and Semi-Finals series against Montreal and Philadelphia; in those 11 games, he had a .937 save percentage and 2.03 GAA, both ranked second among all starting goaltenders in the playoffs.

On the other end of the ice, 41-year-old feel-good story Dwayne Roloson is also seeing his fair share of struggles. The veteran led all postseason netminders with a .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA after his first two series against Pittsburgh and Washington, but those numbers have recently taken a dive.

Roloson stopped respectable 27 of 29 shots in Game 1, but then imploded in the second match, surrendering six goals on just a mere 27 shots faced before being pulled in favor of Mike Smith. His poor performance in Game 2 (though a good share of that can be blamed on the defense is front of him) knocked his save percentage and GAA down to .867 and 5.50, respectively.

For two goalies who were anticipated to be the biggest player matchup to watch in the series and also the biggest factors in the series, it's been a leaky start, at best, for both stars.

On the other hand, we might be able to blame some of those dismal numbers put up by the goaltenders on a number of top-end players who, after two rounds of solid play, have suddenly become unable to handle the pressure.

On the Boston side, team cornerstones like Mark Recchi (zero points, minus-four) and Zdeno Chara (zero points, minus-two) as well as other regular starters like Brad Marchand (zero points, minus-three), Johnny Boychuk (one point, minus-three) and Rich Peverley (one point, minus-three) have collapsed.

For the Lightning side, experienced players such as Ryan Malone (zero points, minus-one, three minor penalties), Eric Brewer (zero points, minus-one) and Steve Downie (zero points, two minor penalties) have fallen off the charts.

Despite the multitude of goals allowed by both opponents, it's been Tampa Bay's shot blocking that's kept too many shots from getting through to Roloson. The Bolts' 'D' out-blocked Boston's 'D' 17-9 in Game 1 and 17-12 in Game 2, taking a 34-21 edge in that regard headed back south.

On the other hand, the Bruins offense has also given some gifts to the Lightning defense; the Bruins gave up 10 giveaways to Tampa Bay's five in the first meeting and 11 giveaways to nine in the Tuesday's matchup.

Another trend that had emerged for the Bolts as they headed into the series was the depth forwards that had stepped up their scoring for the Lightning in the playoffs. Names like Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell and Dominic Moore were starting to get some more respect. And, while that depth support hasn't gone away through the early stages of this series, we're beginning to see a different trend; oddly, between Tampa Bay's dominant top line or their knack for getting production from depth players, it seems to have become an either-or situation.

In Game 1, almost all of the scoring came from unexpected candidates. Tampa Bay's five goals were scored by five different players: defensemen Marc-Andre Bergeron and Brett Clark, second-line forward Simon Gagne, and the aforementioned Bergenheim and Purcell. The deadly first line of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier combined for a mere one point.

In Game 2, most of the scoring came from that top line. St. Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier each knocked in a goal and combined for six assists between the three of them, too, giving just that one line a whopping nine point total for the evening. Conversely, although Adam Hall and Dominic Moore also both hit the back of the net, the five goal scorers from the first game combined for just one total point.

While you may want to point out that, furthermore, the Lightning cruised to a victory in Game 1 while they lost in Game 2, it is also true that they scored an equal five goals in both contests.

So, whether that gives a clue to the rest of the series or not, a total team effort from Tampa Bay a few times from here on out could be a big help to their chances.

And lastly, though we've left it off until the end, who could forget the emergence of Tyler Seguin that we've seen in just a mere 120 minutes of hockey?!

Last June's second overall pick had a decent regular season, but fell far short of expectations with just 11 goals, 22 points and minus-four rating in 74 games played.

The 19-year-old didn't even make his first career playoff appearance until the first game of this series, but it didn't take him long to prove he should've been placed back in the lineup far earlier into the postseason.

Seguin scored a goal (albeit a meaningless one) and an assist in Game 1, but he was only setting the stage for Game 2, where he hit the back of the net twice, including a beautiful breakaway explosion that tied the game at 2-2, and also earned two additional helpers.

Eventually, Seguin was named the first star of the night with four points and a plus-three rating.

It's still uncertain whether the rookie can keep it up on such a big stage, though, especially as he heads into hostile territory. Of course, most of the things we learned from Games 1 and 2 are still mighty uncertain, whether that's the play of two typically heroic goaltenders, the implosion of quite a few stars, the subtle mistakes made by the Bruins offense or the Bolts' odd scoring trend that we're referring to.

Indeed, we've learned what we figure is a lot about this intriguing Bruins-Lightning matchup through the first two meetings of the series.

But really, who knows how the rest of the series will play out? It's the playoffs, after all!

 

Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 270 articles and received over 265,000 total reads.

Visit his profile to read more, or follow him on Twitter

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