TAMPA -- On Saturday afternoon, the Lightning turned it around as the Bruins struggled with turning the puck over. After a solid Game 3, in which Boston's sound neutral zone game stifled the Lightning attack, their sharpness seemed to begin wearing down.
Seven minutes into the third period, with the score knotted at 3-3, Bruins forward Milan Lucic made a casual pass in the neutral zone, promptly intercepted by Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone, who barreled into the zone. With Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle laboring in his end after taking a shot in the foot just moments before, Malone found linemate Simon Gagne, who rifled a shot past Boston goalie Tim Thomas, giving the Lightning the go-ahead goal in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final. With the 5-3 win over the Bruins, coming back after trailing by three after the first, the Lightning evened the series at St. Pete Times Forum, avoiding the brink of elimination.
It had been a tale of two periods up to that point, with each team having their turn at the best and worst of times. Tampa Bay, which had paid for a costly mistake early in Game 3, couldn't seem to avoid them again early in Game 4. At 8:13, Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman turned the puck over behind his net, and it immediately found Patrice Bergeron, who banked in a shot between goalie Dwayne Roloson's pads from a sharp angle. Five minutes later, a neutral zone turnover forced by Bruins center Chris Kelly led to a goal by Michael Ryder, who extended his point streak for five straight games, his longest all season. And just 84 seconds later, it was Lightning center Steve Stamkos, on the power play, who coughed up a puck at the red line to Bergeron, who scored a short-handed goal, his second unassisted of the afternoon.
Without quite the depth of skill and talent Tampa Bay has up front, the Bruins are nothing if not opportunistic. They benefited from a little help from Roloson, who let in three goals on nine shots and has started to look more and more vulnerable in his crease. But their chances came from the kind of pressure they mount on the forecheck, which had gone largely unchallenged until the teams came out for the second.
"It was a perfect first period for us, but then we began to sit back," Bergeron said. "It was about execution. We didn't execute."
That's when things changed.
Zdeno Chara is 6' 9" and 255 pounds, a mountain of a man with the reach of a California Condor. For much of this series, he's been afforded the respect a Norris finalist and physically intimidating man often is, but in the second period of Game 4, none of that seemed to matter to Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone. The 6'4", 224-pound Pittsburgh native seemingly decided no Bruin should be exempt from the physicality. Malone's hit on Chara behind the Boston net seven minutes into the second helped get the puck to Teddy Purcell, who scored his third and fourth playoff goals just 63 seconds apart, beating Bruins goalie Tim Thomas for the first time at home in this series.
The tenacity rippled throughout the Tampa Bay lineup, as the Lightning leveled 19 hits through two periods against Boston's 10. It was off of one of those hits that Sean Bergenheim tied up the game for Tampa Bay midway through the period. Checking Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle behind Boston's net, Bergenheim, the league's leading goal scorer in the playoffs, gained control of the puck, turned and slipped a shot past Thomas, his third goal allowed on five shots.
"We said between the first and second period, 'Let's try to get the first goal, and you'll never know what happened,'" Gagne said.
The first goal breathed life into the building and into Tampa Bay. And a furious Lightning attack, which finished with 37 shots, did not let up from that point forward, using each and every Boston turnover as another opportunity to turn the tide of the game -- maybe even the series.