Lightning (46-25-11, 103 Points, 5th East) at Bruins (46-25-11, 103 Points, 3rd East)
Eastern Conference Final: Boston leads 3-2.
Regular Season Series: Despite entering the Eastern Conference Finals with identical records and a matching point total, the Bruins took three of four games from the Lightning during the regular campaign. None of those victories, however, were earned against goaltender Dwayne Roloson, as two of them occurred prior to his arrival in Tampa Bay, while the other came against Mike Smith. Prior to losing three straight to the Bruins, the Lightning took the first contest of the regular season series on Nov. 22.
The Big Story: Despite a valiant and aggressive effort from the Lightning in Game 5 on Monday, Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was able to fight off the Bolts to pull Boston to within one win from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990. Standing in the Bruins’ way, however, is Tampa Bay, who is 3-0-0 this postseason in elimination games after defeating the Penguins in consecutive matches prior to advancing to the second round.
LIGHTNING – Tampa Bay looks to force a Game 7 for the second time in the 2011 playoffs tonight as it returns home for Game 6 in front of what is sure to be a loud and raucous sellout crowd. The Lightning outplayed the Bruins in Monday’s Game 5, but just couldn’t seem to get the bounces or solve Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas for that matter. Simon Gagne put the game’s first goal on the board just over a minute into the contest, but Thomas regrouped to turn back each of the next 33 shots to earn the victory. Much like it has done all year, the Lightning did not go quietly. Steve Downie nearly tied the game at two apiece with nine minutes left in the third, and would have, had it not been for a terrific save by Thomas. Blair Jones also came close, but his wrist shot from the side of the crease hit off the post. The Bolts defense was equally as persistent, holding the Bruins to just 20 shots on goal throughout the night. Mike Smith earned his first career start in goal and played well, stopping all but two of his 19 shots faced.
BRUINS – Following Monday’s Game 5 win, the Bruins will attempt to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals on the road tonight. Despite falling behind early, goaltender Tim Thomas seemed to have a calming effect on his team, as he went on to stop 33 of 34 shots faced after allowing a goal to Simon Gagne just 1:09 into the game. As Thomas went, so did his teammates. Nathan Horton tied things up at one in the second period before Brad Marchand notched what turned out to be the game-winning goal at 15:56 of the middle period. Rich Peverley also added an empty-net tally to seal the win in the final seconds. Despite registering just 20 shots throughout the night, including just four in the first period, the Bruins made the most of the few opportunities they had to overcome a brutally slow start and get the win, even though several Bruins acknowledged after the game that the team was not at its best.
Who’s Hot: The Lightning’s Simon Gagne has scored a goal in two straight games and Boston’s Patrice Bergeron has three points in as many games since returning from injury. Nathan Horton also has collected four points in his past four games for the Bruins.
Injury Report: LIGHTNING – Pavel Kubina (upper body, day-to-day) and Sean Bergenheim (day-to-day). BRUINS – None.
Notable Quotable: “We’re still trying to figure out the Tim Thomas enigma. He’s making miracles. I guess we’re going to have to come up with some miracles too.” – Guy Boucher, on his thoughts entering Game 6 tonight.