Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis

Comparing the 2010-11 Lightning to the Cup-winning 2004 model

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My gut instinct was to call a comparison between this year’s Tampa Bay Lightning and the 2004 Cup winning version lazy. At first glance, it seems too easy.

Yet after thinking about the similarities in the makeup of both squads, I have to hand it to TSN and other media outlets; there are some parallels. I’d like to take it one step further, though: let’s break down which 2011 Lightning players would fit into the roles of the 2004 model. Some work better than others, while a few comparisons might surprise you.

Casting the ’11 Lightning roster in the role of the Cup-winning ’04 components

Comically undersized, super-skilled Hart Trophy nominee: Martin St. Louis plays Martin St. Louis.

This one’s painfully obvious, but more than anything else, it underscores how great St. Louis has been. Really, he’s been the one consistently great player for Tampa Bay as supporting stars come and go and Vincent Lecavalier waxes and wanes. (Pavel Kubina will play himself again, by the way.)

Stud center: Steven Stamkos as Vincent Lecavalier

You’d think Lecavalier would reprise his ’04 role, but Stamkos is now the Leo DiCaprio to Lecavalier’s Matt Damon. Stamkos scores more points, earns more attention from men’s magazines and ranks as the young center of the future. You know, like Lecavalier was seven years ago.

Clutch center: Lecavalier as Brad Richards

Coming into that 2004 playoffs, Richards didn’t have the same level of notoriety as St. Louis and Lecavalier. Opposing teams paid dearly if they put their lesser checkers against beaver-toothed Richards, as he tore up that postseason on his way to a Conn Smythe trophy and a budget-breaking raise. Lecavalier is already cashing stupidly big checks, but he’s echoing Richards by scoring some absolutely huge goals too.

Journeyman goalie-hero: Dwayne Roloson as Nikolai Khabibulin

“The Bulin Wall” was 31 while Roloson is 41, but they both bounced around the league a bit before playing arguably the best playoff hockey of their careers in Tampa Bay. To extend the analogy, both goalies might not have a chance for an encore. Khabibulin signed an unsightly deal with the Chicago Blackhawks after that Cup victory; Roloson will be an unrestricted free agent in July.

Fascinating head coach: Guy Boucher as John Tortorella

Both coaches are among the best interviews in the sport. Considering Boucher’s scar and Tortorella’s fiery temper, it’s a safe bet that they’re high on the lists of coaches you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, too.

Big minute offensive defenseman: Victor Hedman as Dan Boyle

Sure, Hedman and Boyle have very different backgrounds. Hedman is a Swedish giant who was the second overall pick of the 2009 draft; Boyle is an undersized, un-drafted blueliner from Canada. Yet Hedman is playing a lot of minutes and doing better than many expected in his own end. That’s a lot like Boyle in ’04.

(Hopefully the team will sign Hedman to a deal they can stomach. The Lightning were eventually forced to trade Boyle for a bag of pucks because he was too expensive.)

Grizzled veteran: Eric Brewer as Dave Andreychuk

This one’s a bit of a stretch since Brewer is a defenseman and isn’t as old as Andreychuk. That being said, Brewer’s teammates rave about his leadership and he’s searching for his first Stanley Cup. For the sake of our sanity, Brewer could stand in for Darryl Sydor, too.

Solid supporting cast: Sean Bergenheim, Dominic Moore and Steve Downie as Fredrik Modin, Cory Stillman and Ruslan Fedotenko

Each Lightning squad was high on firepower, but you don’t make a deep playoff run without under-the-radar guys contributing here and there. Bergenheim and Downie are the Christopher Walkens of the Lightning since they steal the show with startling frequency.

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Some of these comparisons are stronger than others, but the more you look at it, the more this year’s Lightning looks like the Cup winning version. If nothing else, this year’s squad is the first to make the Eastern Conference finals since that championship group.

Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

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Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

(Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

“He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

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The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

Read more about Game 6 here.

Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

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The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

What if that offside goal counted?

Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

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Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

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With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.