Lightning force fitting conclusion to exciting Eastern Conference finals
They threw little mini tennis racket-looking thingies on the St. Pete Times Forum ice following the Lightning's 5-4 win in Game 6 Wednesday night. Now it's the Bruins' final chance to hold serve in the Eastern Conference finals.
No matter who wins at the TD Garden on Friday night, it'll be game, set and match in these thrilling finals. No doubt this is a fitting, just end to a series long on excitement, if not special teams and defensive fundamentals.
Tampa Bay, down 2-1 after the first period, struck for successive second-period power-play goals to take a lead it never relinquished -- though it was close. When Boston's David Krejci scored his third goal of the night with 6:32 left in the third period -- funny, not many hats tossed on the ice at St. Pete -- the Bruins still looked like a possibility to advance to their first Stanley Cup finals since 1990.
But 41-year-old Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, with the help of some timely shot-blocking from teammates such as Victor Hedman, held on to extend the series to the limit.
Boston is 1-0 in home playoff Game 7s this year, while Tampa Bay is 1-0 on the road. Something's gotta give.
The Boston penalty-killing unit gave and gave and gave to the Lightning, surrendering three power-play goals on only four Tampa Bay opportunities. Boston's other side of special teams didn't fare much better. They got one power-play goal, from Krejci in the end, but squandered two one-man advantages in the first 10 minutes of the second, when one more goal looked like it might have dulled the Lightning's spirits for good.
Sixteen seconds into Boston's first penalty of the night -- cross-checking to defender Dennis Seidenberg -- Lightning star Martin St. Louis beat his ex-college teammate Tim Thomas to tie it at 7:55 of the second.
The Bruins were doing a good job killing off their next disadvantage when, with 17 seconds left on Rich Peverley's interference violation, Steve Downie faked Bruins defender Johnny Boychuk to the middle of the ice then dished off to Teddy Purcell wide-open on the left side. Purcell one-timed a shot that ricocheted off Thomas' arm for a 3-2 lead at 13:35.
With time left over from an Andrew Ference late second-period penalty, Steven Stamkos made it 4-2 34 seconds into the third, scoring on a similar shot to that of Purcell's goal.
The Bruins cut it to 4-3 on Krejci's second goal, but Boychuk was caught pinching too deep in the offensive zone, and the Bruins were caught on a 2-on-1 that St. Louis finished off beautifully after a setup pass from Steve Downie.
At the postgame podium, St. Louis said Friday night should be a great one for hockey. The winner gets a ticket to the finals, the loser has all summer to stew over one game.
"We knew it was going to be a long series," St. Louis said. "This is a good team; comes down to one game. Luckily and fortunately, all our team has been through a Game 7. Some of us have played more, but we've had that experience. So we know what to expect. The fourth win is always the toughest one to get, and we know both teams will battle hard to get it."
There was no need to remind Bruins coach Claude Julien about what went wrong in Game 6.
"Obviously (special teams) was a difference maker," Julien said. "They scored three goals on the power play, and it took us a long time to get our first one, and that certainly dictated the game. And what was more disappointing is probably the fact that, you know, I don't know if I agree with those calls. And hopefully what was said today didn't have any impact on that, because if it did, I'd be really disappointed."
(Julien was referring to some pregame bickering about the officiating by Lightning coach Guy Boucher -- specifically to that of referee Eric Furlatt against his team so far in these playoffs. Trouble for Julien is, his team got more power plays in this one than Tampa.)
"But when you look back at those and you get an opportunity to look back at them and that's really tough to swallow," Julien said. "And at the same time, you want your team to kill those penalties, which we've done a pretty good job throughout the series. But tonight that wasn't the case. And obviously it was the difference in the game."
So it comes down to one more game before the hockey world will shift to Vancouver for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals -- expected to start Wednesday at Rogers Arena. One thing's for sure: there should be quite a racket at the Garden.