Saturday, May 28, 2011

Ju-B-lation! Boston Wins Game 7, On to Cup Finals!

Jubilation coursed through TD Garden as the hometown Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in game seven, allowing them to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in more than 20 years. The Bruins will now head to Vancouver with four victories separating them from the Stanley Cup. The Lightning are headed home to think about what might have been. Nathan Horton scored the game-winner for Boston late in the third and Tim Thomas stopped 24 Tampa shots for his second shutout of the series. Dwayne Roloson was nearly perfect for the Bolts, stopping 37 out of 38 to give Tampa an excellent chance to win.

Tim Thomas looked good early, making some scrambly saves in defense of the scoreless tie. Both teams looked solid in the offensive zone and sought to keep the pressure up with some timely pinches and good cycling play. With around five minutes to go in the period, Rich Peverley sprung Milan Lucic on a break-away with a delicate and deft leading pass. Lucic’s attempt was denied as Roloson closed down his five-hole. Nathan Horton was noticeably absent from the Bruins bench late in the first following a hit by Nate Thompson. Despite several good chances, the B’s and Bolts went to their respective locker rooms knotted at nil.

Horton was back for the Bruins in period two. Both teams gave the impression of having much more tentative energy, as they seemed to realize that one small mistake could mean the game – and season. Unfortunately Steven Stamkos was the recipient of a frightening play, as he took a Johnny Boychuk slapper off his face, sending him bloodily rushing to the locker room for repairs. As if channeling some old-school hockey toughness Stamkos was back on the ice within a few minutes sporting a full cage and a giant gash on his nose. Toward the end of forty, both teams started getting good chances, but great netminding and some timely blocks kept the score even at zero through two periods of play.

Roloson and Thomas were a combined 46-for-46 through the second. With no penalties called in the first 40, the game was the first postseason match since 1993 to go without a penalty through two periods.

With the urgency level in both the B’s and the Lightning at an exceptionally high level they battled it out hard with an eye on the clock to start the third period. The Bruins appeared to own the pace, but tied at zero, knew they would need to act as the instruments of their own fate. Twelve minutes in, Nathan Horton was the recipient of great passes from David Krejci and Andrew Ference on the rush, tapping it past Tampa netminder Dwayne Roloson to send the TD Garden crowd into an absolute frenzy and giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead. With a chance to play for the Cup within their sights, the B’s clamped down and went into a ‘prevent’ defense. Needing a goal to force overtime, the Bolts started pressing – which played right into the defensive designs of the Bruins. Seemingly incapable of gaining clean entries into the offensive zone, Tampa was unable to successfully pull Roloson until well under a minute to go and the B’s retained puck possession and ran out the clock, assuring the conference championship and a date with the Canucks in the Finals.

The B’s and the Garden crowd erupted in euphoric celebration when the clock ticked to zero, and the Bruins mobbed Thomas. The teams exchanged handshakes and Thomas and his buddy and former Vermont Catamount teammate, Martin St. Louis shared an emotional embrace. Afterwards, Thomas acknowledged how difficult it was to face his friend and competitor. Afterwards, the deputy commissioner called B’s captain Zdeno Chara over to receive the Prince of Wales Trophy as the Eastern Conference Champion. Complying with tradition (or superstition), Big Z politely declined to touch the trophy but instead, in a great show of camaraderie, called over his teammates for pictures surrounding the award.

Nathan Horton scored his third game-winning goal of this postseason, and in doing so became the first player in the history of the NHL to score the game-winning goal in two game sevens in one playoff season. The game was historic in another way, according to the NHL Network; it was the first penalty-free playoff game since 1953 (58 years). It was the 100th game of the season for both teams, who had identical regular season and postseason records going into game seven. The Bruins continued their dominance of the dot, winning 35 of 61 draws (57.4%), marked by solid performances from Patrice Bergeron (65.2%) and David Krejci (82.4%).

Just euphoria here from a B's fan. Everyone stepped up tonight, no slackers on the team. Seguin looked amazing and got fifteen minutes of ice time. Horton has the heart of a champion (and secured my belief that he'll score at least 30-30-60 next year), Timmy has the heart of a champion! Really wonderful moment to see the entire team celebrating around the Prince of Wales trophy. I'm ecstatic... gonna have a hard time going to sleep now.

GO B's!

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