Once again a team pushed a series to seven games and once again they’ve fallen short of their goal of moving on. Tampa Bay was able to force a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference finals against Boston only to come up short losing 1-0 in Game 7 after playing inspiring hockey throughout the playoffs that saw them flip the switch from defensive stalwarts to offensive juggernaut when they wanted to. Against Boston, however, it wasn’t meant to be. So what caused them to bow out against the Bruins? Despite pushing a seven game series, we’ve got a pretty good list of problems to work with.
1. Defensive effort not good enough
We talked a little bit about the one missed play defensively in Game 7 that ended up costing Tampa Bay the game and the series, but overall the Lightning’s defensive effort was lacking. Early on in the series you saw Victor Hedman making many youthful mistakes. With it being just his second year in the NHL and him being just 20 years-old and in the midst of his first playoffs, it’s understandable. He improved though but his teammates also had issues.
Eric Brewer and Mattias Ohlund had some struggles later on in the series while Marc-Andre Bergeron was essentially an offense-only option as his defensive play was highly suspect. When the Bruins turned up the pressure on their attack, Lightning defense was hard pressed to fight it off.
Perhaps the most emblematic guy showing off the Lightning’s problems was Brewer. For the amount of ice time he saw (averaged 24:46 per game) he had just one assist and had a plus/minus rating of -4. If you’re going to be a minus, you’d better score points to go with it (Martin St. Louis had seven points and was a -3 for example). Brewer wasn’t helping produce enough and wasn’t helping out enough stopping the opponent. And yes, Brewer was one of the defensemen on the ice for Horton’s game-winner in Game 7 (Ohlund being the other).
2. Dwayne Roloson wasn’t consistent enough
Dwayne Roloson’s play in Game 7 will go down in history as one of the more inspiring performances of the playoffs. 37 saves and an unfortunate loss for the 41 year-old goaltender will leave a bitter taste in his mouth but what will irk him more is his play the rest of the series. Before last night’s Game 7, Roloson was rocking a 4.33 goals against average and a .851 save percentage, numbers that are stunningly poor for the playoffs.
Considering that Roloson was 3-2 in the games he started before Game 7 it’s remarkable the Lightning were even tied in the series. Had he been better though, Tampa Bay may not have gone seven games and would be working on strategies of how to contain the Sedin twins and Ryan Kesler. Instead, they’re done for the year with some important questions waiting to be answered before next season.
3. Sean Bergenheim was a lot more important than you think
When Sean Bergenheim went down with an injury in Game 5 of this series the main thing most of focused in upon was how the Lightning were losing one of their top goal scorers in the playoffs. After all, when you’re second in the entire playoffs with nine goals that’s difficult to ignore. Of course, Bergenheim was a star on Tampa Bay’s third line and the traditional role of the third line is to lay the body and defend against the opposing team.
With Bergenheim out, the Lightning not only lost a goal scorer but a physical component of their team as Bergenheim was second on the team in hits against Boston with 16. Only Mattias Ohlund had more hits with 19 and given the apparent lack of physicality overall from the Lightning, losing a guy who was averaging over three hits a game hurts badly.
Tampa Bay obviously has a lot of high end talent with St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier, Steve Stamkos, and Victor Hedman. They’ve got the kind of role players you need to be successful in the playoffs as well but next season they have some questions to answer. Who will be their goalie? Both Roloson and Mike Smith are unrestricted free agents. Will they bring back Simon Gagne and Sean Bergenheim? They’re both free agents to be. How much money will they need to fork over for restricted free agent to be Steven Stamkos? GM Steve Yzerman worked wonders to assemble a team that was instantly successful in the league and went much deeper than anyone thought they would in he and Guy Boucher’s first season.
Expect Tampa Bay to build on this, bring a lot of the band back and help make the team much deeper in the offseason. After all, you build on success with guys like Yzerman in charge, it’s not hard to convince guys to play there especially when “there” is a sunny getaway in Florida.