The Tampa Bay Lightning not only showed its mettle Saturday afternoon, but just as well revealed its flair for the dramatic.
After scoring the winning goal that completed Philadelphia’s rally from three goals down in Game 7 last season against Boston, who better to deliver an encore performance than Simon Gagne.
For a second time in as many years in the postseason, Gagne notched the game-winning goal at 6:54 of the third period to complete a 5-3 comeback win against the Boston Bruins in front of a sellout crowd of 21,216 at the St. Pete Times Forum and even up the Eastern Conference Finals series at two games apiece.
“It was huge,” Gagne said of the win. “We had no choice but to win that one. We knew this game was a must-win.”
The series now shifts to Boston for Game 5 on Monday night.
After Boston dominated the first period, both physically and on the scoreboard, Tampa Bay responded with three second-period goals in a span of 3:58 on a total of five shots.
“We just lost our focus,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “We played really well in the first period, not because of what the score was, but we did the right things and we took that lead. The message was pretty clear; we had to continue playing the same way. Somehow, we started getting stretched out again. They started getting speed, they started getting momentum. After they scored a few goals, we almost looked like we were paralyzed out there. We weren't reacting, we weren't moving, and it snowballed from there.”
A pair of goals 1:03 apart by Teddy Purcell brought the Lightning to within one at 7:58 of the second. Purcell first notched his third of the postseason to the far post past Tim Thomas before beating the Boston net minder a second time with a quick wrist shot from the top of the right circle.
Sean Bergenheim also scored for Tampa Bay, which snapped a two-game losing skid. Bergenheim’s playoff-leading ninth goal of the postseason erased the three-goal deficit at 10:53 after he gathered a loose puck out in front and potted one past the stick of Thomas.
The Bruins net minder, who entered the contest ranked first among all postseason goaltenders in saves, stopped 32 of 36 shots.
The three-goal, come-from-behind rally marked the largest comeback in Tampa Bay’s postseason history, surpassing the previous record of two set against the Philadelphia Flyers during the 1996 postseason.
Boston is now 10-3-0 in its last 13 postseason games.
Patrice Bergeron scored twice for the Bruins and Michael Ryder had the other goal for Boston.
Bergeron opened the scoring unassisted after flipping a shot past Dwayne Roloson at 11:37. The goal was a result of a miscue in the Lightning’s defensive zone, as Victor Hedman attempted to dump the puck back to Brett Clark behind his own net, who was instead cancelled by Bergeron at the side of the cage, resulting in an easy goal and an early 1-0 Bruins lead.
Ryder doubled the lead at 16:34 when a shot to the near post deflected off the stick of Mike Lundin past Roloson. It would be one of the final shots the Lightning net minder would see on the afternoon, as Bergeron’s second of the game just 1:24 later chased Roloson from the net in favor of Mike Smith with Boston out to a 3-0 advantage.
As his teammates went, so did Smith.
Smith, in his second relief appearance of the postseason, stopped all 21 shots faced to earn his first career postseason victory. After Roloson was also pulled in Game 2 at TD Garden on Tuesday, Smith went eight-for-eight, allowing no goals in 20 minutes of ice time.
“I didn’t have time to think about it,” Smith said of getting thrown into the mix amidst a three-goal deficit. “We got behind the eight ball there and that’s what I am on the bench for: to get in there, settle the team down and get a little bit of a change of momentum. It ended up working out.”
To say it worked out proved to be an understatement, as Tampa Bay became the sixth team since the lockout to climb back from three goals down and win a playoff game in regulation.
“We’ve been in that situation before,” Gagne said. “We stayed positive, even though we were down 3-0. We talked about getting the first goal, and after that, anything was possible.”
It wasn’t until 6:54 of the third period that the Bolts took their first lead of the game after Gagne took a pass from Ryan Malone in the low slot and wristed one through the legs of Thomas to make it 4-3.
Martin St. Louis, who is now tied for the postseason lead among all skaters with 17 points, sealed the win with an empty-net tally with 37 seconds to play.
“When you’re up, you almost sit back a bit,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “You think that the game is over that’s what we did. We thought we had them and we took it for granted. We didn’t use the lead to our advantage and we didn’t keep pushing. That’s what we should have done.”
The rally, however, was hardly as surprising to Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, who as a result of instilling a relentless drive in his team, has come to expect nothing less than an all-out effort until the end.
“We knew we could do it,” Boucher said of the comeback. “We've been extremely resilient. We came back so many times this year and everyone knows that in the third period we keep coming and coming.”
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