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Thomas comes up big, Bruins move within win of Stanley Cup Final

This was a weird game. The Lightning scored 69 seconds into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on a nice two-on-one passing play from Steven Stamkos to Simon Gagne. But then Bruins' netminder Tim Thomas took over and played brilliantly, holding the Lightning in check in an eventual 3-1 Boston win that gave the B's a 3-2 series lead.

After taking that 1-0 lead, the Lightning continued grinding it out and smothering the Bruins in the neutral zone. The B's offense was on hold due to a rash of minor penalties, but the Lightning couldn't add to the 1-0 advantage. Midway through the second period, the Bruins began getting some skating room up and down the ice. That led to some looks at Mike Smith -- the backup goaltender who got the start over stalwart vet Dwayne Roloson -- and finally yielded a goal when Nathan Horton -- furloughed after serving two successive interference penalties -- one-timed a perfect pass from Milan Lucic. The Bruins kept the pressure on by opening up the game flow, not just looking to chip and charge. It paid off when Brad Marchand finished a nice feed from Patrice Bergeron.

So, despite being outshot badly through 40 minutes, the Bruins led. And even though the visiting Lightning scored first, dictated the style and pace of play through two periods, they trailed. The Bruins, built to bump and grind, got their game going by opening it up in the open ice. The transition-happy Lightning owned the boards for the first half of the game and thus the weird feeling.

That strangeness continued in the third period as the Bruins nursed their slim 2-1 lead by sitting back and not even registering a shot on goal until 8½ minutes had elapsed. Thomas continued to be the central figure in this affair, making the save of the series on Steve Downie, who rapped a shot off an end-boards carom that the Bruins' goalie trapped against the post with his goal stick as he went airborne to his right from the top of his crease. The net was wide open ... and then it wasn't. And the Bruins continued to cling to that one goal advantage.

In the end, the Lightning played well enough to win -- but Thomas was exceptional in stopping 33 of 34 shots on goal. The Bruins made some key plays and were good on face-offs, winning 58 percent, with all four centermen posting winning efficiencies. That's what it came down to for Boston -- finding little ways to overcome an anemic fist period. To their credit, the Bruins concocted a weird formula -- a strange brew -- out of many smaller ingredients. None of it would have come together, though, had Thomas not come up so big.

1. Tim Thomas, Bruins. Fabulous clutch performance made all the more impressive in that the Lightning beat him on the first shot of the game and never again, as he stopped 33 straight.

2. Zdeno Chara, Bruins. He did everything -- from nullifying Vincent Lecavalier to making the key play on the game-winning goal. The numbers say 26 minutes of ice time and a plus-2 and as telling as those two stats are, they fail to convey the whole story of Chara's impressive all-around effort.

3. Brett Clark, Lightning. No, he isn't Chara, but Clark really put it all out there in this Game 5. He led his team with five shots on goal -- at least two of which came on aggressive offensive forays up-ice -- and delivered three hits as well. On a night when the Lightning collectively did enough to possibly win the game, Clark's night stood out.

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