May 14, 2011

Lightning look to dictate play in Game 1

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins d-man Zdeno Chara checks Lightning forward Martin. St. Louis into the boards. (Getty)

BOSTON -- Typically when it comes to the opening game of a playoff series, both teams tend to take time to feel each other out. From discovering tendencies to exploiting weaknesses, a sense of tentativeness often settles in as each squad figures out what works and what doesn't against their opponent.

With the Bruins and Lightning coming off of lengthy breaks since wrapping up their respective second-round series, however, that might not be a given in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, as both teams have had an abundance of time to prepare and devise strategies.

"I think we know each other well and we've watched each other play quite a bit," Tampa forward Martin St. Louis said. "I think after the long break, both teams are going to come out flying. We can't just sit and wait to see what kind of game we're going to get. You just have to try to dictate it as much as you can."

Part of Lightning coach Guy Boucher's plan is to not get too caught up in matchups, as many a bench boss will try to keep his top scorers away from the opposition's best defenders, especially in the postseason.

"The thing I've found over the years is you've got to watch out for line matches," said Boucher. "Sometimes you lose momentum because of that with your players sitting on the bench instead of playing. Whether it's Zdeno Chara, Brooks Orpik or any of the Washington guys we faced, the idea is that your top players need ice time."

If Bruins coach Claude Julien's game-plan is to utilize Boston's top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg against the Bolts top offensive threats, Boucher has confidence that the likes of St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos can handle the daunting task.

"I don't want my top players to sit on the bench just because of matchups," Boucher said. "Your top players have to be able to play against their best players. There will be some matchups. We don't have much control over it here in Boston, therefore everyone has to be ready to play against Chara or anybody else."

St. Louis has gone up against the hulking blueliner a number of times since coming into the league during the 1998-99 season, including during a first-round series victory by Chara's Senators in 2006.

The Bolts' 5-foot-8 winger believes his team's best plan will be to try to make every one of Chara's shifts a tough one.

"You can't get roughed up too much and start thinking how big of a player he is and everything," St. Louis said. "You just have to play. We have to attack him and make him play hard minutes."

While the Bolts want to make it hard on everyone in Black and Gold throughout the tilt, Boucher preached that his team must control their emotions coming out of the gate. But, there's a fine line between playing smart, controlled hockey and coming out flat, especially against a Bruins team that promises to be amped up in their first conference finals appearance in nearly two decades.

"I think with all the emotions it's going to be pretty high-tempo," Lecavalier said. "We'll definitely be ready to go and I'm sure they'll feel the same way. You might think because we've been out for ten days that it might be a slow start, but we've got to make sure we're ready to go."

After all the time in the world to be ready to square off, the B's and Bolts are both optimistic they can hit the ground running and grab an early lead in the series.