The Tampa Bay Lightning cranked up their special teams tonight, killing off four of five shorthanded situations while charging to three consecutive power play goals to defeat the Boston Bruins, stave off elimination for the fourth time in the post-season and force a seventh and deciding game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But it wasn’t easy.
The Lightning jumped on the Bruins for a quick 1-0 lead as they opened the scoring just 36 seconds into the game when Vincent Lecavalier cleanly won a faceoff to the left of Boston goaltender Tim Thomas and sent a pass back to Teddy Purcell who hammered the puck into the Boston net for his fifth goal of the playoffs.
If the opening minute of Game 6 were to tell the tale, the plans for Game 7 in Boston would have been set in stone, but the Bruins would not buy that projection, as they pulled even at 7:09 when Milan Lucic snapped a shot from the high slot through the legs of Tampa defender Victor Hedman and into the net behind Dwayne Roloson and then took the lead at 16:30 on David Krejci’s first of three goals on the night.
With the lead, the balance of the first period belonged to the Bruins, as they outshot the Lightning by a margin of 8 – 4, including a stretch of 12:31 during which Tampa Bay could not muster a shot on the Boston net.
But in the second period, Tampa Bay unleashed a power play that had converted at a 22.2% pace in the postseason, collecting the first of what would be two goals on the night by Martin St. Louis just 16 seconds after Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg was banished for cross checking at 7:39. Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos were credited with assists on the tally.
Teddy Purcell gave the Lightning their second lead of the game when he scored the second Tampa Bay power play goal at 13:35 of the second period, assisted by Steve Downie and Brett Clarke. The goal was Purcell’s second of the night and his second multi-goal game of the series.
If two consecutive power play goals were good, three in-a-row would prove to be even better as Stamkos opened the final period with one of his now-patented blasts from the faceoff circle as he put a pass from Eric Brewer behind Thomas for his sixth goal of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay handled the 4-2 lead with care for the first half of the final period as they held the Bruins without a shot on goal until 9:46, when Krejci made Boston’s first shot count as his second goal of the game cut the Lightning lead to 4-3.
Tampa Bay remained unruffled and re-established a two goal lead just 29 seconds later as St. Louis finished a two-on-one opportunity with Steve Downie for his second goal of the game and league-leading 10th of the post-season.
Krejci wasn’t finished for the night, however, and his third goal of the game at 13:28 put him into a tie with St. Louis atop the goal leaders and cut the Lightning lead to one goal with just over six minutes remaining on the clock.
During those final six minutes, Boston threw everything they could at the Lightning, including nine shots, four of which Roloson stopped, another two which missed the net and an additional three that were blocked.
At the final buzzer, Tampa Bay held the statistical advantage in shots (26-20), hits (23-18) and blocked shots (16-11) and most importantly, on the scoreboard, 5-4.
The Lightning had triumphed when facing elimination for the fourth time in this post-season, but had they solved what Tampa Bay Coach Guy Boucher referred to as “the Thomas enigma”?
“I guess we solved it for tonight,” Boucher said after the game. “But every game is an opportunity for them and us. So, today is today. But the next day is going to be another story and we have to figure him out again.”
But at least they do have that chance, and as everyone knows, anything can happen in a seventh game – or, as Teddy Purcell put it – “It’s a lot better than if we were packing our bags and going home right now.”
Of course, they are packing their bags, but the destination is Boston and a final showdown on Friday night.
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