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THE BRAIN THAT SAVED TAMPA BAY
Austin Murphy
May 16, 2011
After winning the Cup in 2004, the Lightning sank into a deep funk. New ownership, a new G.M. and, above all, an innovative, cerebral new coach have made the franchise the surprise of the postseason
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May 16, 2011

The Brain That Saved Tampa Bay

After winning the Cup in 2004, the Lightning sank into a deep funk. New ownership, a new G.M. and, above all, an innovative, cerebral new coach have made the franchise the surprise of the postseason

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Going into Game 3 against the Lightning, Washington was 31-0-3 when taking a lead into the third period. Coming out of it, they were 31-1-3. Stamkos and Ryan Malone scored 24 seconds apart to wipe out a 3--2 Capitals lead. In a press conference paean to Stamkos, Boucher veered into a testimonial to the grit of a fourth-line winger named Blair Jones, who had gone pointless in a club-low 5:59 of ice time but whose play was "outstanding" and "instrumental."

This is typical. Asked about his propensity to give props to the team's lesser lights—to sing the praises of a No-Name du Jour—Boucher allowed himself a thin smile. "This time of year especially, everyone's important. We need everyone."

Tampa Bay is in the NHL's final four because it's getting big contributions from everyone. This time of year, points out Kompon, the L.A. assistant, the systems teams are running are less important than how crisply they're running them. More impressive than the Lightning's 1-3-1, he says, "is how well they execute it. I mean, Guy has everyone on board. And that's a tribute to him."

Making a similar point was Caps defenseman Karl Alzner, who paid Tampa this compliment: "They have a system, and you don't see one guy doing anything different, anytime." No freelancing, in other words—no "river hockey," to borrow the phrase used by Washington coach Bruce Boudreau to describe his team's far less disciplined play in its 4--2, come-from-ahead Game 1 loss. The Capitals had entered the playoffs trumpeting their more defensive, trapping style. They exited early in large part because when the going got tough, their players abandoned it.

"Right now, in my eyes, [the Lightning has] got a really good shot at winning everything," Alzner added. "Teams are going to have to outwork 'em, and when they do, Roloson's waiting for them."

Up next for Boucher's band of overachievers: the big, bad Bruins. For Tampa Bay, trips to Beantown have tended to be the hockey equivalent of checking into the Bates Motel. In its 18-year history the club has played in Boston 35 times, winning just four of those games. The Lightning is on the small side, as NHL teams go—their leading playoff scorer, pint-sized winger Martin St. Louis, stands 5'8". Boston's corps of defensemen, meanwhile, led by 6'9" Zdeno Chara, is huge, physical and ill-tempered. Only one team allowed fewer goals this season.

Count on Boucher, the sports psychologist, to accentuate the positive: The Lightning hold a decided edge in special teams, having killed penalties more efficiently and outscored the Bruins in power-play goals during the postseason 12--2.

Postsweep, Boucher stood at the entrance to the locker room, watching his players' somewhat muted celebration. "It's a revival," he declared. "The revival of an organization." If he was feeling overjoyed or euphoric to find himself in the Eastern Conference final as a rookie head coach, he hid it well. "My job is to stay levelheaded," he said.

If Boucher stays levelheaded, there's an excellent chance that hockey fans in Tampa will get another Cup before they find out how he got that scar.

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