The Boston Bruins had a 3-0 lead and an opportunity to take a commanding 3 games to 1 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. But as has become commonplace in this postseason, the Lightning stormed back with three goals in the second period and added two more in the third to knot the series at 2-2 with a stunning 5-3 victory which Boston is sure to find hard to swallow.
The Bruins jumped out to their lead in the first period on two unassisted goals by the recently returned Patrice Bergeron. The first on a give away started behind Dwayne Roloson’s goal when Victor Hedman tried to backhand pass to an unaware Brett Clark. This errant pass bounced right in front of the goal to Bergeron for the stuff in at 11:47 of the first. Sandwiched in between Bergeron’s two first period tallies was a goal with 3:24 to the go in the first by Michael Ryder whose cross ice feed deflected past Roloson off of the stick of Mike Lundin staking Boston to a 2-0 advantage. 1:24 later Bergeron tallied again with the Bruins shorthanded when he intercepted an ill advised cross ice pass by Steven Stamkos. Bergeron came down the left wing and flicked a weak wrist shot, which should have been stopped, past Roloson and a goal which led to Guy Boucher replacing Roloson with Mike Smith for the second time in four games.
The doom and gloom that permeated the St. Pete Times Forum got worse when at the end of the period, a scrum ensued. Not only were the first fighting majors of this series handed out to an unlikely pair; Tampa Bay’s Marc-Andre Bergeron and Boston’s Rich Peverley, but Steve Downie was whistled for a roughing minor and given a ten minute misconduct. Up 3-0 already, the Bruins would be starting the second period with a power play.
The Lighting, the most penalized team in the playoffs and possessing the highest ranked penalty kill killed off the penalty limiting the Bruins to just two shots, neither of which were serious threats. But the penalty kill got little rest as a Simon Gagne was whistled for a very questionable goaltender interference penalty less than two minutes later. Steven Stamkos of the Lightning had gained the offensive zone and Gagne cut towards the front of the goal with his head turned to follow Stamkos’ shot and look for a potential rebound. Tim Thomas came way out of his goal and appeared to initiate contact with Gagne, yet somehow drew a penalty. Again the penalty kill was superb in not allowing Boston any serious scoring opportunities.
The importance of these penalty kills cannot be stressed enough as they certainly set the stage and seemed to ignite the Lightning, who began their improbable comeback a little over a minute after Gagne’s penalty had finished. Off of a dump in into the Bruins defensive zone Ryan Malone and Simon Gagne were converging on Zdeno Chara behind the Bruin goal as he tried to receive an ill-advised pass from Tim Thomas. Malone knocked Chara down with a thunderous hit allowing Simon Gagne to find Purcell at the top of the face off circle to Thomas’s left. Purcell had limited options and chose to move to the slot faking out Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid with a move to his forehand, before going to the backhand and sending a shot low towards the right of Thomas which found the back of the net to get the Lightning on the board at 3-1 at 6:55 of the second.
Just 1:03 later Purcell lit the lamp again when the Lightning gained the offensive zone with speed. Vinnie Lecavalier took the puck from the right wing side, headed behind the Bruin goal and attempted a wrap around which was stopped. He regained control and sent a pass to Mattias Ohlund at the left point, who with time, found Purcell, again in the face off circle to Thomas’s left, all alone. With Lecavalier and Gagne both in front of Thomas and the Bruins defense scrambling Purcell walked in a ripped a laser of a shot over the shoulder of Thomas to cut the lead to one.
Just 19 seconds after Purcell’s second marker of the game, the Lightning were given a power play when Brad Marchand was called for a suspect interference penalty for a hit on Steve Stamkos. Given this opportunity, the Lightning applied pressure for almost a full two minutes and had numerous opportunities, which failed to find their way past Thomas. They continued that pressure after the power play expired with Dominic Moore gaining the offensive zone and chipping the puck behind the Bruins goal. Sean Bergenheim, hard on the fore-check pounded Tomas Kaberle with a check to gain control of the puck. Spinning to the front of the goal, he fired a shot which beat Thomas between the legs to tie the game at 3-3. The Lightning continued to press and clearly outplayed a stunned Bruins team through the rest of the second period, but were unable to snap the tie.
They were denied a power play with 2:35 to go when Boston’s Nathan Horton was called for roughing, but should have clearly been called a boarding penalty as he hit Downie high and from behind driving his head into the glass and dasher. Downie was called for diving, a call no doubt made because of the player involved rather than what transpired on the ice. As a result of Downie’s “dive”, he left the game and is now listed as day-to-day with a head injury.
The third period saw both teams come out somewhat cautiously with neither trying to make the first mistake. Although Milan Lucic almost regained the lead for the Bruins when Eric Brewer whiffed on a pass from behind the Lightning goal and the puck ended up on Lucic’s stick to the left of the goal and Smith was forced to make a quick reaction to shut the door on blistering shot from Lucic.
The game remained tied until 6:54 of the third period when Simon Gagne, who ended the Bruins season last year in Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals as a member of the Flyers, was able to convert from the slot on a gorgeous feed from Ryan Malone to make the score 4-3, a lead that the Lightning did not relinquish. The key play on the goal was Malone’s intercept of a cross ice pass by Lucic as Boston tried to move the puck out of the defensive zone. Malone picked off the pass, skated to the right of Thomas and dropped the puck to a waiting Gagne for the finish. Boston had opportunities but Mike Smith came up big on back to back scoring chances by Patrice Bergeron prior to Gagne’s goal and has now gone over sixty minutes without giving up a goal in place of Roloson.
Boston pressed hard for the tying goal late in the third and the Lightning defense was able to hold them off. A critical move was the timeout called by Guy Boucher with 2:19 to go and the Lightning having just been called for icing. Boucher, knowing that the forward line had been on the ice for almost a minute and a half, waited until the absolute last minute to call the timeout and get his winded forwards an extended breather before the face off.
The Bruins were unable to mount any sort of sustained attack in the last three minutes of the third period and they finally pulled Tim Thomas for the extra attacker with 1:28 left in the game. The Lightning defense were able to keep the Bruins along the boards and eventually chipped the puck out to the neutral zone creating a 2 on 1 for Martin St. Louis and Simon Gagne. With one defender back and an empty net Gagne deferred to St. Louis who buried the puck to complete the Bolts unbelievable victory with a 5-3 final.
I have often thought that a 3-0 lead after one period is the toughest to defend. It’s human nature to get complacent, to get a sense of satisfaction, that something has been accomplished and that is not a good mind set to have in any professional sport. When you couple that with a 3-0 lead that was not reflective of anything that had been done exceptionally well, it’s even worse. Even though the Bruins were up 3-0 after the first period, it wasn’t indicative of the way the game was unfolding. Two unassisted goals, well an assist should have been given to Hedman and Stamkos, and another that was inadvertently deflected in by Lundin, were hardly signs that Boston was dominating play. When the Lightning killed off the two consecutive power plays to start the third, an opportunity for the Bruins to put the game away, the Lightning struck back hard, they struck back often and eventually they knocked out the Bruins lights with a stunning come from behind win.
One thing is for certain there will be a Game 6 at The St. Pete Times Forum and one team will be facing elimination. I am inclined, based on yesterday’s complete and demoralizing Bruin collapse, that that team up against the wall coming back to Tampa Bay will be the Boston Bruins.