TAMPA BAY -- The Bruins and Lightning will play Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Saturday afternoon at St. Pete’s Times Forum, with the Bruins having the chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead back to Boston and possibly clinch their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1990. For the Bruins to take that next step, they must follow these four keys to success for Game 4.
Stay in the moment. Throughout the playoffs, the Bruins have done a fantastic job of maintaining an even keel and not getting too high or too low. We’ve stated this as a key to success many times here, but because the Bruins are practicing what they preach and because they have a chance to pull within one win of the Stanley Cup finals if they win Game 4, they must maintain this approach even more so. The closer they get to their ultimate goal, the easier it could be to let the magnitude of the moment creep in.
But, according to head coach Claude Julien, that isn’t a worry as they prepare for Game 4.
“Right now all we’ve talked about is how important the game tomorrow is for us,” Julien said after practice Friday. “We don’t want to live in the past, yesterday was yesterday, tomorrow is what we want to talk about. We want to live in the present and today is about getting some good rest and making sure that tomorrow we are well rested and we have the energy and the focus to do a good job.
"That’s what we’ve been doing since the start and that’s what has helped us get through it from the start. Same thing in Montreal, we lost the first two games, we went to Montreal not thinking about the two losses but what we had to do that night and it has really helped us get through things and that’s what our guys are all about right now.”
Help Zdeno Chara. There’s no doubt that Zdeno Chara can handle the monster minutes he’s been playing lately and that he is a legit Norris Trophy candidate as one of the best shutdown defenseman in the NHL. He has proven that in two of the three games in the Eastern Conference finals, shutting down Lightning superstars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, playing 28:27 in Game 3 as he held each of them pointless. But while Chara is willing and able to play whatever minutes head coach Claude Julien throws his way, the Bruins may want to bring those minutes down just a bit in Game 4, and even more so if they take an early lead. Obviously a coach wants to ride his horses in the playoffs, and Chara -- who is a fitness freak -- has the endurance needed, but if the Bruins do go deeper in the playoffs or if this series turns into a seven-game marathon, the Bruins will really need Chara. It may be time to let some of his fellow blueliners pick up the slack for Chara and mix in some rest, just in case.
Match the Lightning desperation. With Tampa Bay facing a possible 3-1 series deficit and the series headed back to Boston for Game 5, the Lightning are going to come out playing like this is a Game 7. Yes they came back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, but that’s a difficult task to achieve twice in one playoff season. That is why the Bruins need to match the Lightning desperation and intensity from the opening faceoff. The Bruins did a great job of that in sweeping the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They can’t allow the momentum to swing, so they must play a do-or-die-type game.
Play Bruins hockey once again. The Bruins’ 2-0 win in Game 3 may have been somewhat boring hockey, but, for the Bruins, boring equals winning. When you win in the playoffs, it doesn’t matter how you win, and the Bruins need to keep playing the brand of hockey that leads to success for them. The run-and-gun style we saw in Games 1 and 2 was the antithesis of what the Bruins pride themselves in -- a structured, disciplined yet opportunistic brand of hockey that punishes opponents for mistakes. That is how they won Game 3 and so many other games in the playoffs and that is how they must play Game 4. Chances are the Lightning, with their skill and speed, will win a back-and-forth-type game so the Bruins must focus on limiting the open ice and scoring chances and use their physicality and discipline.