(aaaaaand I’m back!)
The Tampa Bay Lightning held the Boston Bruins to just eight shots in the second period of Monday’s Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals at the TD Garden.
The Bruins only needed two.
Goals by Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand in the second period gave the Bruins the lead, and Tim Thomas stopped 33 shots in a row to power the Bruins to a 3-1 win over the Lightning. The Bruins will have a chance to secure their first trip to the Stanley Cup since 1990 on Wednesday in Tampa Bay.
Bruins Offense Comes Alive in the Second
After one period, the Bruins were losing in shots, 14-4. They were losing in goaltending to Lightning goalie Mike Smith, who had blocked all 29 shots on him in relief, but had never started a playoff game before. They were hitting more, but the Lightning were skating faster, and that seemed to be working better.
The Bruins did dominate in faceoffs won, however, and in the second period they used it to their advantage. David Krejci won a faceoff in Tampa Bay’s zone and quickly dished it to Milan Lucic circling in from behind. Lucic got off a strong backhanded pass to Horton, who fired off a slap-shot from the near side of the left circle that went right past Smith, tying the game 1-1 with 15:36 left in the period.
With just over four minutes left in the second, Zdeno Chara fought through three Lightning players to get the puck to Patrice Bergeron near the right circle. Bergeron held the puck for a moment to let Marchand skate into position, then him with quick pass in the crease that Marchand flipped under the crossbar for the 2-1 lead.
The Bruins won 41 faceoffs to the Lightning’s 30. Their strong faceoff game paid dividends on offense and defense. Up 2-1 with 1:08 left in the game, Rich Peverley knocked the puck away from center Vincent Lecavalier as soon as Lecavalier secured the puck after an offsides faceoff. This forced the Lightning to retreat into their own zone and start their offense from farther back. It kept Tampa Bay from pulling Smith from the goal for nearly 30 extra seconds.
Peverley followed up his play by knocking a pass from defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron into the air, which Chris Kelly secured and then passed back to Peverley near center ice. Peverley stepped around Bergeron, pushed the puck a bit up the ice and buried the empty netter for the 3-1 lead with 1:13 left in the game.
Thomas Gives Up Early Goal, Then Bears Down
The Lightning defense was overbearing in the neutral zone and dominating near their own goal early on in the game, and the Bruins offense completely crumbled. Just 1:09 into the first period, Krejci misplayed the puck near the Lightning blue line, and Andrew Ference lost his footing as the puck scooted by him. That gave the Lightning an easy two-on-one, with center Steven Stamkos hitting left winger Simon Gagne with a short crossing pass that Gagne buried in the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
Tampa Bay’s goal came on its first shot on Thomas, but Thomas stopped the next 33. Though he hasn’t been the dominating force in the Eastern Conference Finals that he was against the Philadelphia Flyers, Thomas’s Game Five performance looked more like the Thomas who set an all-time record in save percentage during the regular season.
When winger Sean Bergenheim got off two shots in 10 seconds midway through the first, Thomas became a wall. When center Blair Jones angled undefended towards the goal with 1:50 elapsed in the third, Thomas came out to challenge him, forcing a shot that bounced wide off the right goal post. And when right winger Steve Downie got off a close-range shot with Thomas out of position, Thomas made a desperate dive back towards the net. Extending his stick as far in front of him as he possibly could, Thomas just managed to get the blade in-between the puck and the goal. Downie’s shot struck the edge of the blade, ricocheted off the left goal post and sailed away.
Though the Lightning got off four more shots before the game ended, Downie’s miss had drained the team. They never regained the strength, speed and intensity that had categorized their first- and second-period play, and the Bruins’ defense just got stronger and stouter.
It might not have been the most prolific shooting night in Bruins playoff history, but the Bruins scored just enough to let the best goalie in the NHL do his thing. And now, they sit just one game away from the Stanley Cup.