In the first round of the playoffs, the Lightning played a team with little skill but a whole lot of heart.
In the second round, it played a team full of skill but with little heart.
The next opponent for the Lightning will be the Bruins, a team with a pile of skill and loads of heart. And grit. And physicality. And leadership. And solid coaching. Just about all the ingredients that make up a Stanley Cup contender.
The Bruins completed a sweep of the Flyers on Friday night with a 5-1 win to set up an Eastern Conference final showdown with the Lightning. It's stunning the Lightning has made it this far. Few are surprised the Bruins have done so. Now that the teams will fight to reach the Stanley Cup final, how do they match up?
If history — recent and long term — is any indication, the Lightning could be in trouble. Boston has been a house of horrors for it over the years. Tampa Bay has played 35 games all time in Boston and won only four. It has lost 22 in regulation and three in overtime/shootouts. There have been six ties.
This regular season the Lightning lost both meetings in Boston, an 8-1 shellacking Dec. 2 and 2-1 March 3.
At home this season, the Lightning fared better, winning 3-1 Nov. 22 and losing 4-3 Dec. 28. The Bruins won the second game on a power-play goal with 19 seconds left after a controversial boarding call against Steven Stamkos.
Another thing to note: Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, who has been impressive in the playoffs, was acquired Jan. 1, when the teams had just one game left in their series, and he didn't play that final game. Mike Smith did.
The Bruins create matchup problems all over the ice for Tampa Bay. They were fifth in the regular season in goals scored and allowed the second-fewest number of goals.
Their statistical leaders —Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Nathan Horton, Brad Marchand — aren't marquee names, but they are talented, and the Bruins are deep. Lucic was the team's only 30-goal scorer, but the Bruins had 12 players score at least 10 goals. Much like the Lightning in these playoffs, the Bruins are getting contributions from everybody. Fifteen players have scored.
The real areas of concern for the Lightning are the Bruins' defense and physical play. Led by 6-foot-9 captain Zdeno Chara, the Bruins have one of the biggest (it averages 6-3, 215 pounds) and nastiest defensive corps in the NHL. Boston is the most physical team left in the playoffs and could inflict a few bumps and bruises on a smaller Lightning team, especially if the series goes six or seven games.
If Tampa Bay can get through Boston's rugged defense, it has to deal with one of the best goalies in hockey, Tim Thomas. Thomas, 37, is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's top goalie. During the regular season, Thomas led the league in goals-against average (2.00) and save percentage (.938), and his numbers have stayed about the same in the postseason.
The Lightning is now playing with the big boys. It isn't facing a team like the Penguins, who were missing their two best players. It isn't facing a team like the Capitals, who still haven't figured out how to win in the postseason. The Bruins are a much bigger and tougher test, with emphasis on "bigger" and "tougher."