It takes a strong team to cope with being a favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Errors are enhanced and picked through with a fine-tooth comb by not just the media, but also the people inside the dressing room. Simply "getting it done" isn't good enough — it feels like everything always needs to be perfect, and that can be stressful.
While their team stats from the regular season are barely any different from Boston's (in fact, they tied at 103 regular season points) and their team contains far more offensive stars, the Tampa Bay Lightning are enjoying the beauty of having the underdog label, which is working out pretty nicely for them.
Guy Boucher has been exceedingly cautious in making sure they keep it, repeatedly lauding the excellent team they're just so happy to even be playing with, gosh.
This morning he was asked a question about shutting down Tyler Seguin, to which he responded "[T]he reality is there's too many good players on that team. They've got a terrific team with a lot of guys who can make the difference. So if you start focusing on one guy in particular, you're going to focus on the wrong thing."
Yes, he managed to turn "we're roughly zero percent afraid of Tyler Seguin" into "gosh, that WHOLE TEAM is just so terrific!"
By all logic, the underdog/favorite concept shouldn't have any effect on the outcome of a series, yet somehow it tends to provide a little influence on things.
When you're expected to handily take down your opponent, life just isn't as fun. You aren't really supposed to enjoy the wins as much, and you don't. Why would you? You had a task to take care of, you went out there and did it, and now it's done. Might as well have just picked up the dry-cleaning.
And when you lose, its Armageddon. People have to take off their shoes after having run out of fingers to point around the locker room. Practice is somber, the mood is down, and nothing feels right until you win again.
Having standards for your team like that can be a good thing, but when it's causing panic the second a team has the audacity to score on your great and glorious franchise, it's probably time to snap into some smelling salts and realize that playoff wins never come easy.
For the Lightning's part, they get to feast on the snowball of emotion and excitement, even surprise to some extent. The truth is, hockey players do read what people write about them. They watch SportsCenter and NHL On the Fly and Hockey Night in Canada and buy newspapers. Tampa knows the number of people who picked them to beat Boston was somewhere in the neighborhood of Mattias Ohlund's goal total this season.
Going into the series, they expected a tough fight, partially because everyone told them they were going to lose it. So when pucks start going in and guys are able to get a little bit of feel-good going, their play only improves.
The Bruins are no worse off than the Bolts at this point — the series is tied at two with three games left, two of which are played in their city, in front of their fans. Yet somehow it feels like Tampa has the upper hand thanks to wonders of perception, the same way Roberto Luongo takes more heat than any goalie in the league despite being one of the best ones in it.
Having your head in a guillotine with the glint of a steel blade hanging above you isn't the most freeing way to coach or play hockey, and if the B's don't make it through this round, you never know who the blade might fall on.
For Tampa? This is all gravy. Their team is no better, they're situation is no better, yet the Bruins feel like they're the ones with their backs against the wall. For the Bruins and their fans, hopefully they bring a little better effort than they demonstrated during Saturday's 40 minute meltdown. They're gonna have to.