JR: So, Gary, are you concerned that the Bruins are a bigger, more physical team than Tampa Bay? Are you concerned the Lightning was outscored 10-2 in two games in Boston this season? Are you concerned about how many calories are in the chowder at Legal Sea Foods?
GS: John, at times like this, veterans know that it's all about focus and not worrying about distractions. That's the way I approach a vat of chowder. Also, it seems to be the way the Lightning players approach hockey. I don't think the regular season will matter at all. Boston's physical nature may matter some, especially if someone forgets to feed Chara. But the big concern here for the Lightning is Tim Thomas in front of Boston's net. He forgives a lot for the Bruins.
JR: At this point in the playoffs, you kind of expect to run into a beast of a goaltender. And Thomas certainly fits the bill. Guy doesn't even find a full-time job in the NHL until he's in his 30s and now is posting league-leading numbers at 37. Tell me again why the Lightning thought this guy was a stiff when they had him in camp 12 years ago?
GS: Maybe because the Lightning figured it was just fine in goal with Dan Cloutier and Zac Bierk. Don't forget, those two combined for 13 victories (out of the team's 19 total in 1999-2000) all by themselves. They could have put a cardboard cutout in goal and been more effective. That makes it even more tragic, doesn't it? But that's what those days were like for the Lightning. If Rick Dudley didn't make a trade before lunch, it was a lousy day for him.
JR: Okay, so we can agree the ghosts of goaltenders past may come back to haunt the Lightning in this series. But is Thomas enough? Is Tampa Bay a more well-rounded team than Boston? Three weeks ago I would have said no. But Victor Hedman has grown up in April. And Sean Bergenheim has come alive. And the Lightning is getting contributions from players we barely noticed in March.
GS: You could make that argument. Look, the Lightning and Bruins had the exact same record this year, and I'd say the Lightning is better now than it has been all year. That's something to consider. The smart guys always bet on the best goaltender, which is why they all live in bigger houses than I do. If the Lightning was to beat Boston, it wouldn't be as big a shock as coming back from 3-1 against Pittsburgh was or that sweeping the Caps was.
JR: So the Lightning has looked more impressive in the past two weeks than it has all season. Or several seasons, for that matter. Does that mean Tampa Bay has become a better team, or is it just a hot team? And is there a difference?
GS: I think Tampa Bay is both. I think Victor Hedman is a better player now than he was in March. I think Sean Bergenheim is a good player on a hot streak. A team in the final four needs as much of both as it can get.
JR: Are you telling me that instead of enjoying boat drinks, folks in Tampa Bay will be spending part of their summer vacation on ice?
GS: As near as I can remember, boat drinks are better with ice. Yeah, I think this town is about to get into the Lightning the way we saw seven years ago. That's what the NHL has over other playoffs. It builds a town's momentum. It is this amazing journey that sweeps even casual fans along with it. Over the last four years, Tampa Bay had forgotten how to cheer. Lately, it has remembered.
JR: I actually heard lots of cheers when the last ownership group departed.
GS: I don't remember. I was too busy selling pitchforks and torches for the farewell party.