BOSTON - The question stopped Zdeno Chara in front of his stall in the Boston Bruins dressing room.
"That's a good question. That's a really good question," the big defenceman said Friday.
A simple question, really, but one that could very well strike at the core of this Eastern Conference final between the Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
What's more important in winning a series?
Or are the two so impossibly intertwined there's no answer?
Or, as many would have you believe, does the team with the hottest goalie just win regardless of whatever else is happening on the ice, rendering all other philosophical discussion as pointless as Alexander Semin in his own zone?
Much has been made of the Lightning's 1-3-1 system. It's a way of getting the puck back, similar to what the Montreal Canadiens employ and which gave the Bruins trouble in the first round of the playoffs. It's designed to force the other team to turn the puck over in the neutral zone and then be counterattacked.
Chara thought about the system-versus-the player question.
"I think it comes down to how individuals are willing to buy into the system," he said. "You have to make adjustments. Just because you have a good system ... it will help you win some games, for sure. When you're playing a team in the playoffs seven times, you're going to have to make some adjustments, so is the other team.
"But it comes down to the players, I think. I really believe the difference in a game is made by players. There are certain players who can make things happen. You have to break down situations in games, where it does happen, 2-on-1s or individual battles that you win. Those are the situations where the players will make a difference."
I think a "system" is a good starting point for a team, but you can never get away from the fundamental truth at this time of year: If you take care of the puck, it takes care of you. If the Bruins are going to beat the Lightning, it is because they will not turn it over and feed the Bolts' transition game. That leads to a thought that is counter-intuitive: Sometimes, to keep the puck, you have to give it up.
The Bruins can skate and they can hit. They are not going to stick-handle through the neutral zone, so puck placement in the Tampa zone is going to be key. The Lightning will try to squeeze them in the neutral zone and make placing the puck tougher.
The other thing is, if you're going to make a mess, better to make it as far away from your own net as possible. Pick the location where you want to fight, just in case you lose.
"It's like a chess match," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said. "Thing is, if you make a mistake, you don't want the other guy to be able to wipe out your king."
This is such an interesting matchup. The Bruins are going to want to move forward.
The Lightning will want to counter.
Which approach will win out?
Bruins forward Milan Lucic liked what he saw from his team in their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. They beat the Flyers because they kept the puck moving forward, got a good forecheck and wore down the Flyers defence.
"At playoff time, what does it really come down to? It comes down to guys making plays and executing," he said.
"We can talk about what they're going to do all game long, but in the end, it's what we do."