An amazing season in which the Tampa Bay Lightning exceeded the expectations of the experts, the fans and even themselves ended tonight as the Boston Bruins squeaked out a hard-fought 1-0 win in the deciding Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The deciding goal, a tap-in by Nathan Horton on a centering pass from David Krejci, came in the third period after both clubs had battled for 52:27 without a score.
What began as a defensive battle evolved into an end-to-end carousel of scoring chances, but both netminders, Dwayne Roloson for the Lightning and Tim Thomas for the Bruins, came up with clutch saves each time they were challenged.
Roloson finished with 37 saves on 38 shots, while Thomas earned the shutout while facing 24 shots.
With no score on the board after two periods and each team slugging away as in a heavyweight championship fight, the only way to separate the two teams was via statistics, and by that measure, Boston was showing the edge with 29 shots to 17 for Tampa Bay, along with the advantage in blocked shots and hits.
“Boston was coming and coming hard in the second period,” Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said after the game. “Roloson was outstanding tonight. I don’t think he could have done more than he did.”
Neither could Teddy Purcell, who led Tampa Bay with four shots on net, or Steve Downie, who led the team in hits with four, or Steven Stamkos, who took a direct shot to the face, left the ice bleeding and returned two shifts later wearing a full face cage.
Unlike Game 6, in which special teams were so important and Tampa Bay cashed in on three consecutive extra man chances, tonight’s game was played without a penalty being called on either team and the Lightning never had the opportunity to unleash their power play, which had converted at a 25.4% clip throughout the playoffs.
So the Tampa Bay Lightning head back home tonight, their season in the books. Disappointed to be sure, but soon enough the disappointment will turn to perspective, and from any perspective and measurement, the season was much more than everyone associated with the team could have conceived. The Lightning dropped Game 7, but there is much for the team to be proud of.
“We started with half the team being new,” Coach Boucher pointed out. “The entire staff was new, the GM, the CEO and the ownership was all new, and it’s outstanding that the players and everyone else involved with the organization was able to get this team to be a team so quickly.
“Obviously, it’s difficult,” Coach Boucher said. “But our players put every ounce of energy they had on the ice. There is a lot of respect that comes at the end of this. They can’t do more than that.”
Indeed they can’t, and that sums everything up.
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