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The Boston Bruins will compete in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 21 years after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. This marks the 9th time since 2002 that Boston will be represented in a Championship game in one of the four major professional American sports leagues.
Nathan Horton was again the series-clinching hero, scoring the only goal on a perfectly executed assist from David Krejci and Andrew Ference. He also happens to be the first player in NHL playoff history to score the game-winning goal in two Game 7’s in the same postseason.
Dwayne Roloson had a spectacular night between the pipes with 37 saves on 38 shots. Ninety-nine times out of 100, a performance like that would steal a game for a team. But, it turns out that Tim Thomas and the Bruins’ defense were just that good on Friday night. After the first two periods, it was clear that one goal could win the game. That’s all the Bruins needed.
And it only took them a little over 52 minutes of ice time to do it! As if Bruins fans weren’t tortured over this game enough, they had to watch in a numb horrified state as it became more and more obvious that it was going to come down to the wire.
There was something magical about the night for the Bruins all around. With the exception of Roloson standing on his head, the Bruins outplayed the Lightning in every facet of the game. They consistently protected and supported their goaltender, who had his second shutout of the series with 24 saves. They out-skated them. They out-schemed them. They out-worked them. They were intangibly unified for their common purpose, and they played like a team that was desperate and hungry.
Then, there is the fact that this game did not feature a single power play. Let me reiterate: there were zero power plays in the entire game, for either team. Not only have the Bruins been unfailingly the best 5 on 5 team in the 2011 NHL postseason, but they’ve also had a historically bad power play – the worst EVER in the playoffs, with just 5 power play goals through 18 games. So, for them to be gifted a game in which the power play was literally nonexistent has a faint ring of a fate to it. Just saying.
As the Bruins look forward to their matchup with Vancouver though, they may want to consider at least trying to shape up that PP in any capacity. The Canucks penalty advantage will present them with the same problems that had them struggling with Tampa bay at times, and it’s been made clear across the postseason that more often than not, the referees will officiate more like they did in Game 6 of the ECF than in Friday’s Game 7.
It is nearly impossible to differentiate the first and second periods of this game from each other, considering that no goals and no power plays kept things fairly consistent. It’s also incredible to think that these were the same two teams that played in a Game 6, which saw 5 goals and 7 power plays through two periods.
The first two periods were the epitome of the defensive display everyone expected from these two teams when they entered this series. In fact, they were probably the best two defensive periods played in these NHL playoffs. Going into the game, there was much speculation as to whether the refs would let these two teams battle it out in typical Game 7 fashion, and they certainly did. The hits were flying and the pace was fast and furious, yet the refs were stingy with the whistles.
Notable hits early in the game by Seidenberg on St. Louis and Downie on Chara set the tone for the physicality delivered by both teams. At 10:00 in the first, Nathan Horton took a hard hit from Nate Thompson that shook him up enough to keep him off the ice for the rest of the period, but the Bruins maintained control over the pace of the game getting 15 shots on net to Tampa Bay’s 9 and 0 giveaways to Tampa’s 4.
The 2nd period mostly resembled the first. One glaring exception was what the play by play would call a “blocked shot” by Steven Stamkos on a Johnny Boychuck slapshot. In reality, Stamkos took a hard shot puck straight to the shield on his helmet, immediately sending him to his knees and clutching his face. As soon as he gathered himself together enough to stand up, he skated off the ice and into the locker room clutching his nose, which was dripping blood.
Bloody broken noses are par for the course though, and Stamkos eventually returned to the game; albeit with a gruesome new battle wound. Yet, his injury was not enough to kick start the Lightning, as they were outshot 14-8 in the period by the Bruins. They continued to look sluggish in their normal fast paced neutral zone possessions, and this helped the Bruins continue to establish dominance with aggressiveness and constant pressure.
During the postgame handshakes, the Lightning were gracious and sportsmanlike. The Tampa Bay players went out of their way to express their respect, especially and noticeably to Tim Thomas. Horton wore the signature Bruins jacket for being the player of the game, but everyone on the Bruins names Timmy as the guy who has pulled through for this team the most and most often. He and Canucks veteran goalie Roberto Luongo will no doubt be the centerpieces for the Vancouver-Boston Stanley Cup matchups.