We're just under four hours from the puck drop on the Boston Bruins versus Tampa Bay Lightning, Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The game can be seen on Versus, with a full-hour of Bruins pregame show, Bruins Face-Off on NESN, and listened to on 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.
The Bruins, with the series lead 3-2, have a chance to close things out tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum and move on to the Stanley Cup Finals against the Vancouver Canucks -- which would be their first NHL Finals appearance since 1990.
Since time's winding down, there are a few things in particular that I need to address right away. So without further ado, here are my Game 5 post game rants and musings.
Adam McQuaid: Has a better player on this team gone more unnoticed than No. 54? Perhaps it's the fact that he's overshadowed by two beast; the B's top-2 in Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. Or perhaps it's due to the fact that he's been playing bottom pair minutes alongside this year's scapegoat, Tomas Kaberle. Will he score 40 points during the regular season? Probably not. But one thing's for sure: Adam McQuaid deserves some props.
At the 10:54 mark of Game 5 in Boston, Lightning antagonist and pest Steve Downie came in late, very late, on defenseman Johnny Boychuk, resulting in a boarding minor and a Boychuk that didn't return. A few minutes later, with Boston still up 2-1 late in the third, head coach Claude Julien stapled Kaberle's butt to the bench and rolled-out four D. The top-2 and Andrew Ference with McQuaid.
The bench boss has that much faith in the rookie blueliner to get the job done. He's not flashy, and doesn't have a 105 MPH slap shot. But he flat-out does his job. He blocks shots at the right times (2 last game, both on the PK), is very reliable in his own end, can play with that nasty, physical edge in his game, and clears traffic out of Tim Thomas' area.
Again: overshadowed, unnoticed, but a very big cog in this Bruins backend.
Milan Lucic: Another game without a shot on goal, Lucic set-up Nathan Horton with a nifty back-handed assist for the B's first goal of the contest in Game 5. The helper may be a sign of better things to come from the four-year pro.
After potting 30 goals during this 2010-11 regular season, Lucic has yet to be that offensive player at any time this post season. With 2-5-7 totals in playoff 16 games thus far, No. 17 has posted just two assists, a minus-1, and nine shots on goal this series against Tampa Bay. If the Bruins happen to make it past this round and Lucic continues to struggle on the offense, it won't bother me in the least, IF he does these things:
- Make the defense think twice about chasing down the puck he's on the ice. Make the D look over their shoulders the next time they go hard into the corners, battling for loose pucks or one-on-one battles.
- The same goes for the opposing forwards; make his presence known. If Martin St. Louis or any other forward decides to get cute with the puck through the neutral zone or along the board in the offensive zone, they will take a hit. A big one.
- Park his 6-foot-4 frame right in front of Dwayne Roloson, particularly on the power play. Lucic should be either behind the net, or right on top of Roloson's blue paint. That's it. He should impose his will in and around that area.
His linemates David Krejci and Horton each lead the squad in goals with seven a piece. If Lucic isn't going to be one of the best offensive weapons on the Bruins top-line, then he's going to have to contribute in the ways like he once did...and that's by being rough-and-tough.
Michael Ryder: The guy will make you go crazy during the regular season with his streakiness, and his $4 million salary may feel like highway robbery. But one thing's for sure: the guy throws it all out the window, starts over, and saves his best hockey for when it really counts.
Ryder's six points this series (3 goals) against the Lightning has him tied with linemate Tyler Seguin for most points for the Black and Gold. Plus he's got one of the team's four power play goals and is a plus-1 (which is a plus) this series.
But I'm particularly impressed with his backchecking. It's something to continue to keep an eye on as the series, season goes on.
Nathan Horton: The NHL world, especially Boston, has finally seen why this kid was the third overall pick in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. Skill plus power: two attributes that Horton is showing this post season. And particularly in this series, No. 18 seems to be playing with some controlled aggression.
He almost single-handedly brought some life back into the TD Garden in Game 5 with not only his slapper past Mike Smith (after coming out of the box with his second minor penalty of the game) but with his Kamikazie-like style, too. He racked-up four hits (26 this post season), and was in the thick of things when the nasty stuff was going on, out on the ice.
Second on the team with 14 points (7 goals, 1 PP, 2 GWG) Horton is nearly a point-per-game player in his first-ever NHL post season. He's quite simply a top-5 player for the B's these playoffs. No question about it.