Goal of Bruins is to bottle up the Lightning
Up front, they are loaded with talent in Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, and leading scorer Martin St. Louis. When the Eastern Conference finals begin Saturday night at TD Garden, the Bruins must find a way to clamp down on their opponent’s top offensive threats.
“With every skill player, you’ve got to take time and space away and just try to be hard on them, don’t make it easy,’’ said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “Be hard in battles, try to win those puck battles along the boards, because that’s where they create stuff and get their chances from.’’
It actually might help the Bruins to have played the Habs in the opening round because it gave them seven games of experience negotiating the briar patch that was the neutral zone.
“The first round was a really hard challenge,’’ said Seidenberg. “The second round, we seemed to jell a little bit more and just play better hockey. Now, the third round, the anticipation is bigger, obviously, and everybody is getting ready and we’re looking forward to getting the next one started.’’
The biggest lesson they learned was to not force anything.
“You never want to force plays, and we did that the first couple of games, especially against [Montreal],’’ said Seidenberg. “We’ve just got to choose our spots where we want to be aggressive, where we want to go right back at them or when we want to just regroup and come with speed. It’s a mental game.’’
Seidenberg said players such as Lecavalier, who has 12 points in 11 playoff games, need to be respected.
“He’s obviously very skilled, he’s a former 50-goal scorer,’’ said Seidenberg. “He’s very solid on the puck, he’s strong on the puck. He’s a big body and he protects the puck well along the boards and just creates plays off of that.
“I’d definitely say top 10 [in the league]. All those guys are in the upper [tier] of forwards. So it will be another challenge.’’
Seidenberg said St. Louis, who is Tampa Bay’s top scorer with 13 postseason points, poses a different kind of threat.
“His work ethic is unbelievable,’’ said Seidenberg. “He works like crazy. He’s small and has a low center of gravity. He’s really shifty and smart and he sees the ice really well.’’
As for Stamkos, Seidenberg said, if you follow the puck, it usually finds him.
“He knows how to shoot the puck and he knows where to be,’’ said Seidenberg.
Because of the long break, Game 1 might need some time to take shape.
“Both teams are definitely rested,’’ said Seidenberg. “It’s tough to say if it’s going to be a waiting game or if it’s going to be an up-and-down game.
“We’re trying to play our game and we’ll just have to wait and see what they’re going to come with. They’ve stuck with their system and they’re very patient and we just have to play our game against their system.’’
Much has been made of the Lightning’s 1-3-1 neutral zone scheme, but Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t sound overly concerned.
“I don’t think you want to certainly put your whole game plan around that,’’ said Julien. “The bottom line is, you’ve got to find a way to get through that. And at the same time, what they’re very good at is when they force you to move the pucks in deep, they’ve got a defenseman there who just grabs it and shoots it right back out.
“So it’s about us getting through that and making sure we give ourselves an opportunity to still have the puck in the offensive zone.
“Our game plan is not going to change a lot. There are going to be some small adjustments here and there, but our game plan should be good enough and we should be confident with it that we know it can continue to bring us success.
“As far as their neutral zone [scheme], it’s very similar to Montreal’s and we were able to get through that one.’’
Julien acknowledged that the Lightning have a more potent offense than anything the Bruins have faced so far.
“Every team you play has got some players you have to keep a close eye on,’’ said Julien. “[Claude] Giroux and [Daniel] Briere in the Philly series, the [Mike] Cammalleris and [Brian] Giontas [in Montreal].
“You’ve just got to make sure you know who they are and you’ve got to make sure you know when they’re on the ice and what they’re capable of doing and hopefully they’re thinking the same way about our players.
“We’ve handled other teams pretty well and we’re going to have to handle those guys just as well because we plan on having success.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.