Boston Bruins (3) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (5)
The Eastern Conference Finals pits the two hottest teams in the playoffs right now. The Bruins have won five games in a row and eight of their past nine, while the Lightning, who were down 3-1 in the first round, have now won seven in a row.
Bruins to add: Nathan Horton, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas
Possible sleepers: Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi, Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk
Players to avoid: Patrice Bergeron (concussion, could miss time), Daniel Paille, Michael Ryder, Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, Tomas Kaberle, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference, Adam McQuaid, Tuukka Rask
Lightning to add: Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Steve Downie, Eric Brewer, Dwayne Roloson
Possible sleepers: Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Simon Gagne, Dominic Moore, Nate Thompson, Pavel Kubina
Players to avoid: Adam Hall, Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, Mike Lundin, Mike Smith
Starting with the back end, it’s a no-brainer to add either one of these goalies. Tim Thomas has gone 8-3 with a 2.03 goals-against average and a ridiculous .937 save percentage, proving that his regular season numbers were no fluke. His playoff numbers ranks second in both ratio categories behind…Dwayne Roloson (2.01 GAA, .941 SV%). Roloson has given up only 23 goals in 11 games (13 to the Penguins in seven games, and just ten to the Capitals in the four-game sweep). Those are pretty good numbers against high-powered offenses. Roloson, 41, has made 30-plus saves in nine of Tampa Bay’s 11 playoff games, and seems like he is on a mission to win his first Stanley Cup after falling short in 2006 when he got injured in the finals with Edmonton.
Offensively, there’s plenty to choose from here. First off, if your league rewards for overtime goals, look no further than these two teams. Vincent Lecavalier (12 playoff points) and David Krejci (10 points) have each scored three game-winners, and Nathan Horton (10 points) has two. Other notable offensive threats that are sure to make an impact include Martin St. Louis (an NHL-high seven powerplay points), Steven Stamkos (playing better after a slow start to the playoffs), and Steve Downie (NHL-high 10 assists, 12 points and 20 penalty minutes).
For the Bruins, Brad Marchand posted seven points in the four-game sweep of the Flyers, and registered a point in eight of the Bruins’ 11 playoff games thus far. Center Chris Kelly has played well, but doesn’t do anything other than score the occasional goal, as he isn’t a powerplay guru or a penalty minute machine. Michael Ryder seems to have disappeared in the playoffs, at least I feel that he has, so I’d try to avoid him here.
Defensively, the Bruins have played well, but their defenders have not put up great numbers. Adam McQuaid and Patrice Bergeron (12 points and a plus-7) are hurt- although both will probably be ready at some point in this series. Zdeno Chara has only four points and eight penalty minutes, but is a plus-11 (ranks 1st), so he is worth picking up. However, Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle haven’t added much fantasy-wise. I’d give Johnny Boychuk a look if you need some defensive help. Only three points in 11 games, but his two goals in the series versus the Flyers was one fewer than he scored in 69 games during the regular season. And somebody has to step up, so why not him?
The Lightning don’t fare much better on the blueline. Pavel Kubina and Marc-Andre Bergeron have missed a few playoff games each, and haven’t done much when they have been in the lineup. Victor Hedman and Mattias Ohlund have a couple of penalty minutes, but other than that, there’s not much they offer.
Sean Bergenheim is one of the surprise stories of the playoffs, as he is tied for the league with seven goals and is sure to be available in some formats (and if you’re in a pool that everyone can choose the same players, he’s a good option). Teddy Purcell is probably not the first guy that comes to mind when you think of NHL playoff scoring leaders, but he has 11 points (1g, 10a), including three on the power play, and 24 penalty minutes, despite limited minutes in the playoffs. In other words, Purcell has just two fewer points than St. Louis, the Bolts’ leader. If you are doing a round-by-round team that has a salary cap, Purcell would be a decent add at a cheap price, so keep that in mind. Dominic Moore (8pts, 16PIM) and Simon Gagne (7pts) can also help as third-tier forwards.
Mark Recchi may be 43, and only have four playoff points so far, but he has 140 in 175 career playoff games, so I would never really count him out. As well, Milan Lucic (five points in 11 games, plus-7, 31 PIM) is a versatile option, even though he has struggled during the past month.
So the two best goalies squaring off in this series should mean for some low scoring games, right? It could be, but probably not. I’m predicting the Lightning to win this series in six games and advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Editor’s note: In my pre-playoff goalie rankings I had Antti Niemi No. 1, Roberto Luongo No. 2, Tim Thomas No. 3, and Dwayne Roloson No. 8. Three of my top four could be among the final four teams left. Just sayin’!