BOSTON -- Prior to being traded to the Bruins last June, forward Gregory Campbell had his fair share of playing time against the Tampa Bay Lightning, facing the in-state rival six times a season as a member of the Florida Panthers for five seasons. While the superstars Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos are the same, the Tampa Bay squad that knocked off the Penguins and Capitals in the first two rounds and will play the Bruins in the Eastern Conference finals starting Saturday is vastly different.
“I think it’s a lot different,” Campbell said. “They have most of their top guys still there, but as far as the way they play, the way they’re coached, the system that they have, they’re such a talented team that when you talk about the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s about how well they play defensively. I think it’s a credit to those guys how they’re buying into the system and what the new coaching staff there has instilled. It’s working for them.
"They’ve always been a team that can score and kill you on the scoreboard, but they’re built a lot more solid now from their goaltender out. Their defense is a lot stronger and I think they’ve made a turn for the better down there. They’re a really good team right now.”
One element of the Lightning and their game that has stayed true to form through the revamping of the lineup and the change in approach is alternate captain Martin St. Louis, who is a finalist for his second Hart Trophy after a stellar 98-point season. Campbell didn’t seem to be surprised at the season the 35-year-old had or that he is still instrumental in the Lightning attack.
“He’s a guy that I was always impressed with when I played against him,” Campbell said. “He makes that team go to be honest with you. He’s extremely shifty and good with the puck. You can tell he’s a leader for that team. Playing against him as many times as I have, he’s always been a guy I’ve been impressed with.”
With St. Louis, Lecavalier and Stamkos, the Lightning have the third-best power play in the playoffs, and Campbell knows from experience the challenge that he and the Bruins' penalty-kill units will have on their hands in the Eastern Conference finals.
“They have their top guys there and their top guys are some of the top players in the league,” Campbell said. “So when you have that combination, it’s obviously going to work. They always had a power play that was, not to say it wasn’t structured, but their parts, they move in and out, and it’s tough to defend that when you have St. Louis sometimes playing on the point and then he’s down low. To have a game plan [to defend] is a little bit tougher than most.
"They have a lot of weapons too. They have the one-timer from Stamkos, and if you take that away, which most teams do now especially after that 50-goal season he had, they’ll just move it over to Lecavalier for his one-timer. So it’s tough being down a man and having to cover all those dangerous guys.”