That’s what it was, a game of inches. The Lightning were inches away from tying Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Monday night. But close only counts in horse shoes, not the NHL playoffs and with the game tying goal on his stick with 10:40 to go in the 3rd period Tim Thomas robbed Steve Downie with one of the greatest playoff saves in recent memory.
The Bruins defeated the Lightning in Game 5 by inches to take a 3-2 lead in the series as it heads back to the St. Pete Times forum for Game 6. A game that saw the Lightning out-shoot and out-chance the Bruins for a majority of the game and still fall. A game, if not for a Vezina caliber goaltender, would have been an easy win for the Lightning. But this is the playoffs and goaltenders need to steal a game from time to time. Tim Thomas did so last night and as a result the Lightning are facing elimination. The Lightning have yet to get that from either Mike Smith or Dwayne Roloson.
The Lightning carried the game to the Bruins. They controlled the puck and gained the zone, applying pressure for all but a few moments. Other than the two plays where the Bruins scored, the Lightning were able to keep the Bruins offense to the outside and limit their opportunity at prime scoring chances. As with anything, the end result is always telling and the two times the Bruins were presented with optimum scoring chances, they found the back of the net.
Nathan Horton’s game-tying goal off of a feed from Milan Lucic was a thing of beauty. Dave Krejci won a draw in the offensive zone to the right of Mike Smith and forced the puck toward the boards where it was picked up by Lucic who fired a back hand pass to an unchecked Horton in the slot for the put away. Take your pick of Hall of Fame goaltenders and that shot beats them 9 out of 10 times.
The go ahead goal by the Bruins’ Brad Marchand was completely preventable. A weak clearing attempt by Victor Hedman along the boards to the right of Smith was stopped at the blueline and eventually forced deep and corralled by Patrice Bergeron. The weak clearing attempt was followed by an equally weak back check by Martin St. Louis who allowed Marchand to bury a feed from Bergeron into a partially empty net. Both errors at this point in the season are unacceptable. They did happen, the Lightning were down, but it wasn’t from lack of effort that the ultimately lost this game.
The power play which had been dominant throughout the playoffs failed on four consecutive advantages extending from the first into the second period. While they did generate a number of quality chances, they did not convert and that can be directly attributed to the play of Tim Thomas who shut down the Lightning.
Tim Thomas is certainly capable of delivering another performance as he did last night, the man is not a Vezina candidate by accident. The big question is, can he? He has shown in Games 1, 2 and 4 of this series that he can be beat and it almost appears as if it is feast or famine with his goaltending this post-season.
The Lightning dominated play for a majority of last night’s game and came up short, specifically because Tim Thomas played Superman. If the Lightning bring the same effort as they did last night, I don’t think Thomas gets out of the phone booth. I fully expect to see everyone back in Beantown for Game 7.