I'd like to call this series the Shoe Drop Series, because something's gotta give (sorry for those who just reflexively thought of Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton sexually). Tim Thomas? Dwayne Roloson? As we know, people always call veterans "crafty" when they do something good, but the way these 35+ goalies have been roaming between the pipes it is safe to say that we are truly seeing two craftsmen at work. Roloson and Thomas have both had remarkable stories in the NHL, the former for his solid performances on mediocre teams, the latter for the fury of talent in what, for many, would be the twilight of their careers. They both fight time and their last years in the game, and one of them will get a shot to win it all. Is it wrong to say I don't want either one of them to lose?
I doubted the Tampa Bay Lightning in their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, if you'll recall, because I felt they were the volatile team against one that had effectively reduced chances against their goalie. Tampa squeaked out the win in the 7th game, behind some of the best goaltending in the playoffs from Roloson. They went on to face the #1 seed, the Washington Capitals, and won via offense rather than Roloson, but in a convincing 4 games to 0 fashion. You have to like this team going into their matchup with Boston because of the way they stormed through to the Conference Finals, right? You have to like this team because of their extraordinary shot differential during the regular season, right?
Well, yes and no.
...because I think I'm through doubting Tim Thomas, for one. As I had mentioned in the preview to their series against the Flyers, Thomas has been so good that he could regress (say, 2 points, to a 93.2 ESSV%) and the Bruins could still generate the offense to win games. As it were, his ESSV% has been north of 94.5 across the entire season, including playoffs, and he and the Bruins defense shut down so many Flyers opportunities you almost thought the Flyers were shooting to hit Thomas or Bruins' shinpads instead of the net. To make his performance even more convincing, he's given us a reasonable PKSV% (84.3 on 51 shots-against).
For two, the Lightning's mortality has shown through twice now: once by not playing too convincingly per score-tied Fenwick in the 1st round, the second by showing a bit of shakiness at even-strength. Of the 10 goals scored by the Capitals, 8 were scored at even-strength, and perhaps only one of those in anything that might be called "garbage time." Roloson's 92.2 ESSV%, a good-not-great number in today's NHL, doesn't tell the whole story; no less than 5 of those 8 goals were messy, weak goals given up by Roloson or a defense that had momentarily disappeared. One of the remaining 3 was the "garbage time" goal. To a degree, that's expected against a solid team like the Capitals, but it's fair to note that the Capitals were not playing in front of Tim Thomas. Can the Lightning clean up the mistakes and get the puck past Thomas? Pittsburgh couldn't; Philly couldn't. I don't think Tampa can, either. Boston in 6 games.