The talk in Boston all day Monday leading up to Game 5 of the Bruins’ Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning was if the Bruins eventually drop the series to the Lightning, they will forever look back upon their blown chance in Game 4 when they let a three goal lead slip away before losing 5-3. There was redemption of sorts for the Bruins in Game 5, however, as Tampa returned the favor by putting forth a squandered dominant performance of their own, handing the Bruins a 3-1 win and a 3-2 series lead.
Tampa took it to the Bruins strong and took it to the Bruins early, scoring just 1:09 into the first period, as a miscue at their offensive blue by David Krejci and Andrew Ference led to a 2-1 break for the Lightning. Coming down on Bruins defender Johnny Boychuk, Lightning forward Steven Stamkos fed a pass to Simon Gagne, who used Boychuk as a screen and put Tampa’s first shot of the game past Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas for the 1-0 Lightning lead. The Lightning continued to pressure the Bruins as the period went on, outshooting the Bruins 14-4 in the first (34-20 in the game), but the Bruins defense remained steady, shutting down the potent Tampa offense.
Things continued to look bleak for the Bruins as back-to-back penalties to Nathan Horton, one to close the first period and another to open the second, kept the Lightning on the attack. The Bruins penalty killers did their job, however, keeping the Tampa power play, which came into the series as the top ranked power play in the playoffs, off the board and the Bruins in the game.
Horton made up for his time in the box by getting Boston on the board as things finally started to turn in the Bruins favor in the second period. Off an offensive zone faceoff, the puck ended up on the stick of Milan Lucic, who fed Horton in the high slot to put a one-timer past Lightning goaltender Mike Smith, making his first career playoff start in place of Dwayne Roloson, who had been pulled in Game 4 after giving up three, first period goals. It was Horton’s team leading seventh goal of the playoffs.
Brad Marchand, who had been quiet to this point in the series after being one of the leading forces on the Bruins offense in the first two rounds, finally broke through for his first point of the Conference Finals, breaking the 1-1 tie in the process as he put home a feed from Patrice Bergeron at 15:56 of the second to give Boston their first lead of the game.
The Lightning took control once again, possessing the puck for much of the early part of the third – more than eight minutes had passed in the period before the Bruins recorded their first shot – but the Bruins defense did what they were unable to do in Game 4 and held onto the lead. Thomas did his part after making a tongue-and-cheek declaration of victory coming into the game, stopping all but that first shot taken by the Lightning, which included a diving save on Steve Downie near the mid-point of the third, just barely deflecting the puck from a wide open net with the blade of his stick. Credit is due to the Bruins defense as a whole, however. Even though they were outshot and out chanced by Tampa in every period, and the Lightning controlled puck possession most of the contest, as the game wore on the Bruins defense did not yield many quality-scoring chances to their foes.
With the win, the Bruins now head back to Tampa for Game 6 on Wednesday night, on the verge of doing something Bruins fans dare not mention. Despite his penchant for all out defense, Bruins head coach Claude Julien will need to be more mindful in Game 6 and not have his troops just pack it in behind center ice. All too often this year, Boston has gotten themselves into trouble when they take the defense only approach, as was evident in Game 4. The more balanced game they played in the second period of Game 5 is when the Bruins have been their strongest. If nothing else, putting emphasis on controlling the puck in the offensive zone for the Bruins will help in keeping the puck away from the likes of Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, both of whom are tied for second in scoring in the playoffs. Tampa’s offense bolsters too much talent for the Bruins to expect to be successful should the games turn into a shooting gallery on Thomas.
Though Boston has taken a step back this round and not looked as formidable an opponent as they did late in their opening round series against the Montreal Canadiens and in their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins have continued to find ways to win throughout the course of this series with the Lightning. First it was the offensive barrage that brought them the win in Game 2, followed by suffocating defense for the shutout win in Game 3. Tonight was a stolen win based more on luck than a solid defensive effort and some timely saves from Thomas. The Bruins cannot count on luck twice in order to advance past Tampa Bay, but their ability to continue to just win games, even those they do not dominate, is encouraging as they look to close out the series.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.