The Eastern Conference finals were set awfully quick as both the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins swept their conference semi-final opponents. Tampa Bay knocked off the #1 overall seed in the East Washington Capitals thanks to a brilliant offensive display that saw them score at least three goals in all four games. Meanwhile, Boston simply dominated the Philadelphia Flyers, winning three of the four games by four goals. Keep reading to find out our Stanley Cup playoff picks for the Eastern Conference Finals.
#5 Tampa Bay Lightning
How They Got Here: Tampa Bay needed seven games to get past the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round, but made short work of the Capitals last round. Dwayne Roloson was awesome in net despite facing more shots than Michal Neuvirth did in the series and stonewalled the potent Capitals offense. No offense has looked better in the last few weeks as well, with the Lightning tallying 29 goals over the last seven games.
Player to Watch: Vinny! Vinny! Vinny! C Vincent Lecavalier hasn’t received the attention this season as he has in past years due to the play of Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, but made a huge mark last series. Lecavalier notched three goals and three assists against the Caps and buried the overtime winner that gave the Lightning a two game lead. With 12 points (5 G, 7 A) through 11 games he is also one of the favorites for the Conn Smythe Trophy provided the Lightning can make it past the Bruins.
Goalie Outlook: Through two rounds, no goalie is playing better than Dwayne Roloson. The 41 year old goaltender seems to have found the Fountain of Youth since being traded to the Lightning in mid-season and has solidified the back end. Roloson is 8-3 this postseason with a miniscule 2.01 GAA and a .941 save percentage. His dominance is even more impressive because of Tampa Bay’s aggressive style of play which allowed both the Penguins and Capitals to outshoot them.
Key to Victory: Can the Lightning continue to find the back of the net against the defensive-minded Bruins? Neither Washington nor Pittsburgh are considered teams with elite defenses and both teams focused much more on scoring than Boston will. The Bruins are cut from a different cloth though and will not play the wide-open game that Tampa Bay likes to play.
#3 Boston Bruins
How They Got Here: Like Tampa Bay, the Bruins required the full seven games to get past their first round opponent, the pesky Montreal Canadiens, but followed that up with a convincing sweep against the hapless Flyers. Boston has been particularly dominant in overtime games, going 4-0 in NHL betting affairs that went into the extra session.
Player to Watch: LW Brad Marchand is on a five-game point streak and was excellent in the Bruins’ sweep of the Flyers. Marchand racked up four goals and two assists and has 11 points this postseason thanks to the outstanding play of his linemates Mark Recchi and Patrice Bergeron. However, the loss of Bergeron is a blow to the Bruins and means that the Bruins will need another player to step up and Marchand is the best candidate.
Goalie Outlook: Tim Thomas continues to be lights out this season. He dominated the regular season and is now making his mark on the postseason with more solid play. Thomas has an 8-3 record this postseason along with a 2.03 GAA and a .937 save percentage and stopped 142 of 149 shots against the Flyers to help give the Bruins the series sweep. It will be important for the Bruins to continue to get elite play out of Thomas as the Lightning are one of the most offensively talented teams in the NHL.
Key to Victory: With Tim Thomas, solid goaltending is almost a given. However, where will Boston’s offensive production come from if Bergeron can’t come back from a mild concussion? Bergeron was the ultimate distributor and averaged almost an assist per game in the 2011 NHL playoffs and his contributions will undoubtedly be missed. In his absence, the Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton, and David Krejci line will need to produce to get the B’s past the Lightning.
2010-11 Regular Season Meetings
March 29th – Tampa Bay 1 – Boston 2
December 28th – Boston 4 – Tampa Bay 3
December 2nd – Tampa Bay 1 – Boston 8
November 22nd – Boston 1 – Tampa Bay 3
Season Series Notes: Boston won the season series 3-1 and the home teams also went 3-1 against the hockey betting line in their four games. Tim Thomas is 3-0 against the Lightning this season as the Bruins only loss to Tampa Bay came with back-up goaltender Tuukka Rask in net.
The Final Word: Tampa Bay and Boston both have had stellar play from their goaltenders thus far this postseason, but the Lightning have a significant advantage offensively. They have three legitimate stars that are able to score any time they are on the ice and their frenetic style of play is difficult to contain. Neither team had the best odds to win the Stanley Cup, but in this match-up we expect the Lightning to reach the Stanley Cup Finals.
Stanley Cup Free Picks: Tampa Bay in 6
Aaron Ryan has been in the sportswriting biz since the late-90s, and he has worked side by side with some of the best and brightest in sports gambling. Always searching for the best trends in sports, Andrew uses his brilliant math mind to his advantage to beat the books.