By Mary Paoletti
This series is interesting.
I got to watch the first game of the Eastern Conference finals at close range. Well, kind of. Of all the floors lining the guts of TD Garden, my seat on the 9th floor was as high up as you could get. Not a bad place to take the whole scene in. The crowd's roars reached the rafters with an intensity I have never before heard in that building.
Surprisingly, it makes for a good place to think.
My eyes were two of the thousands on Tyler Seguin Saturday night. 'A final at age 19,' I marveled. 'Thrilling. Terrifying. There's probably a little peesicle frozen to his leg right now.' But then I scanned over 25-year old Nathan Horton, in full stride of his first career playoff run; Tim Thomas, 37-year old NHL journeyman; and 43-year old Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi. None of these guys have represented Boston in the Eastern Conference finals. Every single member of this club is trying to do something no Bruins have done since the year Seguin was born, so that amount of pressure from the city rests evenly across all shoulders.
For one moment, Seguin didn't seem to feel it.
His goal was gorgeous. I could have watched him spin Mike Lundin down to the ice on loop. And that one, pretty move to fool Dwayne Roloson glove side made me wonder about all that hype. No doubt, the teenager didn't sleep a wink Friday night. But he's a goal-scorer. For everything else that blew Seguin away -- the lights, the banners, the noise, the cameras -- I bet he was calm as he rushed through the neutral zone.
Calm? Yes. Clean? Nope.
If we could freeze-frame the action when Seguin's working along the half-wall or in his own zone, pluck him out, and insert somebody else I'd do it in a heartbeat. Those are the areas where he reminded us of his inexperience. And that's where 19 years really means different things to different players.
Tuukka Rask is another guy I was thinking about.
Remember him? That other goalie. Last year's must-have, shutdown netminder. He was the guy I zeroed in on when Tim Thomas let up goal No. 3 on Saturday night. I was too far away to tell, but wanted to know if he craned his neck toward coach Claude Julien after Teddy Purcell scored. On reflex. Did he get his hopes up? Was he antsy as a Little League pitcher stuck riding the pine while the starter walks three straight batters? "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon. Put me in!" (Or whatever the Finnish equivalent is.) Obviously, it didn't happen. And it probably won't; Tim Thomas is expected to tighten up.
He'll need to.
Tampa got its big win without a goal from its top talent. The marksmen: Brett Clark, Sean Bergenheim, Teddy Purcell, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Simon Gagne. No St. Louis (one assist), no Lecavalier, and no Stamkos. That's going to change. Lecavalier had five shots Saturday night, including a brilliant opportunity in the first period that Thomas barely stopped with a sprawling save. And how about zero SOG from Steven Stamkos? We won't be seeing that again. The Bruins may be banking on Thomas tamping down, but they can also expect a heavier assault from Tampa's first two lines.
That when I considered Boston's power play.
Nah, just kidding. Not even going to go there. The Bruins have one huge piece of the PP puzzle missing in Marc Savard and another big other piece, Tomas Kaberle, is equally but less understandably useless. For spectators, Boston's man advantage is best for two-minute power naps or trips to the fridge to get another beer -- it's a fact like E = mc2 or "Pierre McGuire thinks James van Riemsdyk is a fine young man." (WHAMMO!) There's nothing more to say until the Bruins provide evidence to the contrary.
I can drink as many beers as I want tonight; I'm watching Game 2 at home. It'll be a lot quieter, that's for sure. But there'll still be plenty to think about.