Tonight the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning will fight for the last win needed to move on to battle the Vancouver Canucks for the Stanley Cup. Boston had a chance to end the series two nights ago in Tampa but were unable to. Now, back home the B's have the best chance to win.
It is shocking how underrated the Lightning were during the regular season—perhaps this is due to the fact that they were the only team who won a playoff berth with a negative goal differential—but nonetheless the Bruins are the better team.
Why? Here's a few reasons.
The Power Play
Both teams have great power plays and both teams' coaches have been willing to utilize unorthodox tactics to get an advantage on the other team. Guy Boucher's decision to place Steve Downie on the first line paid dividends in Tampa's Game 6 win in the form of two primary assists.
Downie, usually known as an instigator, showed off a great pair of hands by setting up his first-line mate, Martin St. Louis, and by setting up Teddy Purcell on the power play. However, Claude Julien's decision to place the big Zdeno Chara in front of the net on the power play will most likely be a deciding factor should Boston win tonight.
Chara is huge. Seeing past him will be near impossible for Tampa's netminder, and it will be beyond impossible for Tampa's defensemen to move him away from the crease.
Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci have been extremely poised with the puck on the power play for the B's and have shown great vision on the ice. These players also have an intangible quality; they always seem to know exactly when to take the play into their own hands.
Boston's only power-play goal in Game 6 was set up by Horton and finished beautifully by Krejci—Chara was a key player in this sequence, too. Boston, set up in an umbrella formation, seemed content to keep moving the puck between the three players at the top of the umbrella.
When Horton received the puck on the left half boards, he hesitated and analyzed the play then quickly skated the puck down toward the goal line and fed a perfect pass to Krejci who tipped the pass into the net. Krejci saw that he was in a perfect passing lane and waited till just the right time then tiptoed backwards just enough to be able to get a clean shot past Tampa's defenseman (Ohlund).
While Horton and Krejci were the guys who initiated and finished the play, it probably would not have resulted in a goal had Zdeno Chara not been standing right outside Tampa's crease. Ohlund, as soon as Horton began to pass toward the front of the net, gave Chara a crosscheck—any good defender in the NHL would want to ensure Chara could not get his very long stick on the pass to direct it into the net. Thus, Ohlund's stick was off the ice.
Big "no no."
Krejci's tip in was soft and surely would've been stopped had Ohlund had a stick on the ice, but, being preoccupied with Chara, he did not.
Chara also created a number of other scoring opportunities acting as a power forward in front of the net.
Tampa's power play is ridiculously deadly, but Boston's hard work ethic, great puck movement and especially the intuition and hockey sense needed to know when to force the play to the front of the net will help put them on top tonight.
Quite simply, Dwayne Roloson has been incredible. He is 41 years old and still playing an incredibly quick and agile game in his crease.
Tim Thomas, however, is the best. Thomas plays like a cornered animal when the puck comes near his crease—and I mean this in a good way. There is nothing Thomas will not do in order to ensure the puck does not enter his net.
While Roloson has been great and come up with some crucial saves, Tim Thomas has been absolutely incredible and an outstanding positive for his team. Also, with Dwayne Roloson having played just under only 150 minutes less than Thomas in the playoffs, one has to imagine that his age will soon be catching up with him.
Should that happen, Mike Smith is barely capable of even being a backup goalie for a mediocre regular season team.
Both the B's and the Bolts show great poise and composure as a team. The B's have better posture and disciple. Tampa is a team that never stops fighting, but they are also a team that can become very emotional and letting emotions run too wild interferes with precision and focus.
Boston also fights very hard but stays very disciplined and continues to play its game and work hard every single shift no matter what is going on in the course of the game.
This will be an intense game and should emotions start to run wild, expect Boston to take advantage by staying organized and operating with deadly precision in lieu of playing a coast-to-coast style game that Tampa sometimes likes to play.
Both teams are great, both teams have great goaltenders, both teams have great coaches who have disciplined players who trust in their coaches game plan, both teams are very disciplined and hard working, both teams have star scorers and playmakers and both teams have role players who have stepped up their game in crucial situations.
Both teams will put on a good show tonight. To be honest, this game could go either way and whichever team wins will have a great shot at taking down Vancouver for Lord Stanley's Cup. Boston should be the favorite, but the only thing you can be sure of is that this is a game you do not want to miss.
If you're expecting a show of technical, precisely executed textbook hockey, you will not be disappointed.
If you're expecting to see highlight reel goals you will not be disappointed.
If you're expecting to see star goalies stand on their heads, you will not be disappointed.
Grind-it-out-till-the-last-buzzer hockey? Won't be disappointed.
Bone-crushing physical hockey? Won't be disappointed.
Be sure to tune in tonight to catch what should be an incredible Game 7 to conclude an incredible series. Be sure to leave comments whether you agree or disagree.