2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 5 Reasons the Lightning Are the Best Team Remaining

Alan ZlotorzynskiCorrespondent IIIMay 16, 2011

2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs: 5 Reasons the Lightning Are the Best Team Remaining

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    BOSTON, MA - MAY 14:  Brett Clark #7 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates his first period goal against the Boston Bruins with teammates in Game One of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 14, 2011 in
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    Somewhere in the suburbs of Washington DC and Pittsburgh PA, Bruce Boudreau and Dan Bylsma each let out a little bit of breath last night as the Tampa Bay Lightning cruised past the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

    Boudreau and Bylsma are probably wanting to tell anyone that will listen, "I told ya so" when it comes to just how good the Tampa Bay Lightning are playing now.

    In defeating the Bruins in Game 1, the Lightning won their eighth straight postseason game and even more impressive is the fact that five have come on the road against three different teams.

    Of the four teams remaining in this playoffs, only the Lightning seem to be in control of all the ingredients that are required to win a Stanley Cup.

    Even this year’s President Trophy winners, the Vancouver Canucks have hit their bumps in the road and are struggling at times with different aspects of their game.

    Tampa has been more than bump free since trailing the Penguins three games to one in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Tampa can play any type of game at anytime and anywhere right now in the playoffs. They are the best chance the Eastern Conference has at winning the Stanley Cup because in my mind they are the best team remaining in the playoffs.

    Many will say that it is possible that all of this will come to a crashing end when either Vancouver or San Jose shows up at Tampa's doorstep in the finals.

    Many of you are thinking at this very moment that they have won only one game against Boston and this series still has a long way to go.

    Only in terms of days, because right now, the Bruins are finished and if they cannot come out any better than they did in Game 1, they may as well just get in line to shake hands now.

    The Lightning have every major ingredient necessary and in place to win their second Stanley Cup in eight years.

    Here are the ingredients that the Bolts possess and the five reasons why the Tampa Bay Lightning will finish off Boston and as long as they continue to play their game, win the Stanley Cup.

The Ageless Wonder Is Indeed Making History

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    The first of the major ingredients necessary to win the Stanley Cup is you must have a hot goaltender. Is there anyone hotter than 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson?

    Roloson's .941 save percentage and 2.01 goals against average are the signs of a man on a mission. He is undefeated in elimination games in his career and shows no signs of wearing down because of his age.

    The mission Roloson seeks to finish is the one he started back in 2006 with the Edmonton Oilers, and the Tampa Bay Lightning may just be the benefactor.

    In a much-criticized deal (what a surprise) by the fans of Edmonton, a very mediocre Oilers team acquired Roloson in March of 2006 from the Minnesota Wild.

    Roloson struggled throughout much of the season (6-17-1 in Minn.) as Oilers GM Kevin Lowe took a beating from the media and fans alike.

    All Roloson did was promptly lead the No. 8 seeded Oilers past the No.1 seeded and President’s Trophy winners, the Detroit Red Wings in six games.

    Along with teammate Chris Pronger, Roloson dominated the rest of the Western Conference playoffs.

    He was spectacular, following the first-round upset of Detroit with series victories over San Jose and then Anaheim in the conference finals.

    Roloson was 12-5 with a .927 save percentage and 2.33 goals against headed into the Stanley Cup Finals against another surprise team, the Carolina Hurricanes.

    However in Game 1 Roloson suffered a third degree MCL sprain of his right knee when Hurricanes forward Andrew Ladd was pushed into Roloson by a back-checking Oilers defenseman and current Lightning teammate, Marc-André Bergeron.

    Oilers coach Craig MacTavish announced that Roloson would not be able to continue in the series as the Oilers lost in seven games to Carolina.

    Much about Roloson's career has been unspectacular but counting him out or even saying that because of his age he cannot continue to be as good into the finals would be a huge mistake.

    He may not have been as good as Tim Thomas or Roberto Luongo during the course of this past season but he's better than both right now and right now is all that matters.

    There is no reason to think that Dwayne Roloson cannot continue his quest to finish what he almost accomplished single handedly with the Oilers in 2006, winning the Stanley Cup.

Defense Wins Championships but Scoring Like This Can't Hurt Either

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    The term "secondary scoring" has become very popular with studio analysts during this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs and Tampa has it in bunches.

    In fact, the Lightning not only have secondary scoring but they have "thirdary," "fourthdary," "fithdary," and so on. You get the point, the Bolts are hot and no one looks poised to stop them.

    To say that third line players Sean Bergenheim, Steve Downie and Dominic Moore have elevated their game in the playoffs is a gross understatement.

    Bergenheim currently leads all players with eight goals during this postseason and Downie is tied with several players for second with 11 assists.

    Moore has chipped in with nine points this spring as the three of them have combined for 30 points. That is just two points behind what the first line of Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and team captain Vinny Lecavalier have accomplished together.

    That is what makes this group so successful for Tampa Bay. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to do this time of the year, elevating their games while the stars continue to produce.

    Speaking of the stars on the first line, St. Louis has picked up where he left off in the regular season. His 14 points is third in the playoffs.

    Not far behind him is team captain Vinny Lecavalier who has 12 points.

    Aside from the six mentioned, the Lightning are getting contributions up and down the bench and no other team playing can boast four lines of quality at the moment.

    Forward Teddy Purcell is sailing right along on the gulf coast of Florida during the postseason. Purcell is just one point behind St.Louis with 13 and is tied with Downie for the team lead with 11 assists.

    "You've got to do your role and more and those guys are bringing it," NHL%7CPlayoffs2011Round3Series1">Martin St. Louis said after a 5-2 victory in Game 1 of the conference finals. "You need everybody at this time of year. We don't have any passengers and that's why we're having the success we are."

    If you think the Bolts are not playing lights out right now with the puck, I present these quick tidbits. Tampa has scored 43 goals in 12 games. That’s three more than San Jose and 10 more than the high flying Vancouver Canucks.

    Here is the kicker. The Lighting has played in two fewer playoff games than both teams. Not to mention that that the Penguins and Capitals were both ranked in the Top Seven defensively during the regular season.

    Tampa is averaging a little over three and a half goals per game and have done this after being outshot in 10 of their 12 games so far this postseason.

    Say what you want about the way the Caps and Pens struggled scoring goals during the season, but neither had any problems stopping everybody from scoring on them consistently.

    Tampa shredded both defenses and scored four or more goals in six of the 11 games they played against them. In Game 5 of Round 1, Tampa destroyed the Penguins by scoring eight goals.

    No other team comes close to the Bolts, who have the No. 1 ranked offense in the NHL right now.

    The Bruins' defense shows no signs of being able to figure out what the Caps and Pens already know, Tampa can score, early and often.

    If the Bruins do not bring more to the table defensively than they did in Game 1, they could and most likely will also be swept by the hottest scoring team in the playoffs.

Speaking of Defense, Tampa Can Play a Little of That as Well

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    The fact that the Tampa Bay Lightning is outscoring everyone in the playoffs is not a surprise. With names like St.Louis, Stamkos and Lecavalier, points were not going to be hard to come by.

    The fact that no one can score on them most assuredly is a shocker.

    Names like Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund do not exactly conjure up thoughts of the great defensive playoff teams in recent memory.

    Why, you ask? Because the Bolts finished the regular season ranked 22nd defensively in the NHL, allowing 2.85 goals per contest.

    During the postseason, Tampa is giving up just 2.17 goals per game and it's not all due to the much talked about 1-3-1 neutral zone defense head coach Guy Boucher likes to employ.

    In fact, Tampa only actually runs the 1-3-1 about 30 to 40 percent of the time. Much of their accomplishments on defense can be attributed to outmuscling, outhustling and outhitting teams in the corners and along the boards for loose pucks.

    Tampa has skated harder and simply wanted it more than their opponents to this point in the playoffs.

    Yes, Dwayne Roloson has been a major factor but like a pitcher in the National League getting a timely hit and producing an RBI, Tampa's blue liners are also contributing on offense.

    Trade deadline acquisition Eric Brewer leads the Bolts' blue liners with six points. 

    Tampa has suited up eight different defenseman in the playoffs. Their contribution has been significant in terms of timely playmaking. The defense has chipped in with a little less than two points per game as they have combined to score seven goals and 16 helpers.

    However, the damage this group is doing when the opposition has the puck has been frustrating if you are a fan of the other team and jaw dropping if you are a Lightning fan.

    They have surrendered just 22 five-on-five goals and have not allowed more than three goals in any playoff game this spring.

    In seven games, teams have failed to score two or more goals.

    The Lightning were one of the worst third period teams in the NHL during the regular season. The Bolts were a minus-24 in 82 games and blew several key games down the stretch late in games.

    In the playoffs, no team that has played in at least 10 games has scored more goals or allowed less in the final frame than Tampa.

    They are a plus-six during the postseason whereas San Jose is a minus-four and Vancouver is a minus-one. A remarkable turnaround on defense for Tampa.

    Of everything Tampa has done in 12 postseason games, this unit may carry them to the Stanley Cup if they can continue to play this way.

    The Bolts have been opportunistic and physical at precisely the right times both in and out of their own zone. This is not a fluke, the Bolts have speed at the blue line and can keep up with either team from the West.

    The biggest key is the Bolts' physical play in front of Roloson. They were not a physical team in front of Roloson during the final two months of the season but have changed their tune in the playoffs.

    The one area the Bolts need to concern themselves with is shots allowed per game. Tampa is allowing 35 and that is way too many for Roloson to contend with against better and more accurate shooting teams like San Jose or Vancouver.

    Tampa has won seven of the 10 games they have been outshot in during the playoffs. Impressive, yes, but it is certainly not wise to continue playing that way.

    That is playing with fire and it would be a shame to get burnt when it counts the most, especially when your team is ranked No.1 in every major category that matters during the most important time of the season.

Good Special Teams Gets You to Round 2, Great Special Teams Wins Cups

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    I think we agree that the formula for winning a cup is riding a hot goalie, playing great defense and getting timely and secondary scoring.

    However, great special teams play is what makes a good playoff team a great one. Right now, the Bolts are great and much of it has to do with the beauty of their special teams

    How good is the penalty-killing unit for Tampa Bay? Consider this. In 35 chances, the Penguins scored just one PP goal in seven games. The Capitals had 19 chances in four games and scored just twice.

    One of those goals came on a two-man advantage.

    Add five more penalty kills in Game 1 against the Bruins and the Bolts have allowed only three goals by three teams covering 58 short-handed situations.

    Tampa is killing penalties 95 percent of the time and if you think the Bruins will crack the four-man box, think again. Boston failed to score a PP goal in their seven-game first-round series victory over the Montreal Canadiens.

    Their power play unit passes the puck at a pace that almost makes you dizzy to watch.

    Now granted the Pens and Caps did not have very good PP units and both teams struggled during the season with the extra man.

    However, both were ranked No. 1 and No. 2 respectively during the season in killing penalties and the Bolts shredded both units.

    They treated the NHL's No.1 ranked PK unit like were wearing yellow jerseys in practice and the No. 2 ranked Capitals looked no better.

    The Lightning have 13 PP goals in 50 opportunities and like their penalty-killing unit, ranks No.1 in the postseason.

    If Pittsburgh and Washington could not slow Tampa's PP down, I am not holding out much hope for Boston. They finished the regular season ranked 16th and are 10th in the post season.

Even as a Rookie Coach, Guy Boucher Is Best Coach Remaining

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    Guy Boucher is the best coach left in the NHL playoffs.

    Boucher may seem like he is standoffish with his players and not in tune but it only appears that way.

    Boucher has quickly made his mark in the NHL and and not just with his own players. During this year’s NHL All Star game the CBC network and the NHLPA conducted a poll of 318 current NHL players.

    One of the questions asked was which coach which coach would you most like to play for? Guy Boucher was fourth behind Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma, Detroit's Mike Babcock and Phoenix's Dave Tippet.

    Players understand what kind of coach he is and respect him for his beliefs and the way he pushes them.

    When the same group of players was asked what coach demands the most from his players, Boucher finished one notch higher in third behind the Rangers' John Tortorella and Babcock.

    Keep in mind that this poll was conducted in January when Boucher was not even halfway through his rookie campaign behind the bench for the Bolts.

    Boucher will never be outsmarted and if the playoffs are any indication, may not get outcoached either. In fact, he may be the smartest coach in all of sports.

    He has two bachelor degrees, one in History and Biosystems Engineering—from McGill. He also has a master's in Sports Psychology from the University of Montreal.

    Boucher says his engineering background allows for a more mechanical perspective of hockey.

    "All the movements that hockey players do—the torques that they do with shooting and their transfer of weight —basically, they are vectors," Boucher said. "It has really helped me segment and break down movements of players."

    With his unique background, it is not surprising that Boucher's team plays a very unorthodox brand of hockey.

    The 38-year-old Boucher was the most highly sought after candidate last offseason as the Columbus Blue Jackets also offered him a job behind their bench. All he has ever done is win.

    In his last three seasons, Boucher is 152-52-26 in three leagues ranging from the QMJHL to the NHL this past year.

    Mathieu Darche, who played 57 games for the Canadiens this season and played for Boucher in Hamilton of the AHL last season says of him and his system, "His system is unlike anything I've ever seen before, it's very new age and I think it works.

    "It's five men everywhere. It's not one or two guys here and there." A fact the Pens, Caps and now the Bruins can back up.

    His intensity is perfect for the postseason and Boucher seems to be pushing all of the right buttons.

    Coming back from trailing three games to one against the Penguins was no easy task and Boucher led his team delicately but straightforward to what is now eight straight wins.

    The way everything has fallen into place is no coincidence and it is certainly no accident.

    There may be more experience behind the benches of the remaining teams but you may be hard pressed to find a coach that can connect, discipline and praise better than Boucher can.

    Boucher has stayed the course and his players, young and old, believe in him and more importantly, the system.

    Right now Boucher's team ranks No.1 in every category that breeds a Stanley Cup in the postseason and the way the Lightning got here was no fluke. It was the way Boucher envisioned it would be all along.

     Bonus slide next

In the End, It's Tampa over Vancouver in 7 Games

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    The Bolts have what I believe no other team left in the playoffs have.

    The complete formula for playoff success.

    No one would argue that Tampa currently has the hottest goaltender, the best defense and the best special teams, with a steady and high scoring offense that is producing four lines deep.

    Tampa has two of their best players remaining off their 2004 team that won a Stanley Cup. What St.Louis and Lecavalier may be able to tell the guys in the dressing room about what it takes to win it all could be as valuable as gold.

    The Bolts have a great young coach that learned on the job this year. He has guided them through adversity early and has them poised for "the run."

    Tampa also has the other ingredient every Stanley Cup winner possesses, a little luck.

    Yes, Lightning fans, you must have luck on your side to win a Stanley Cup. No worries, your team currently has the market cornered.

    Remember the three goals in three different games that bounced off Capitals players and into their own net? Remember the numerous saves Roloson made while not looking at the puck in the first two rounds?

    Never forget that coming back from a 3-1 series deficit definitely requires more than a little bit of luck.

    Make no mistake Lightning fans, your team has peaked at the right time, in every phase of the game.

    The Lightning look scary good and if they were the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs or New York Rangers playing this way, they would be all the rage of the hockey world.

    As long as fate or injuries do not play a role, your team, at this very moment, may just have the best shot to repeat the above video in June.