Now that was more like it
TAMPA — Six wins to go . . . or is it a bit too early to start talking like that?
Facts are facts.
There’s a lot of grueling hockey ahead of them, but the Bruins have now won 10 of 12 games since losing those first two eminently winnable games to the Canadiens. Forgotten was the 5-2 debacle in Game 1 of this series, and likewise forgotten was the weirdly wonderful 6-5 hair-raiser in Game 2 Tuesday. Even if this series were stretched to the best of 99, you stand zero chances of seeing another game like that. The coaches would bring shotguns to the arena before they would allow a similar occurrence to take place.
Last night was a real, live Stanley Cup game, and that’s the way Claude Julien likes it.
“Tonight’s game probably resembled a little more of what everyone expected from this series,’’ said the Boston mentor. “Both teams were tough to score against. We were stronger [than in Game 2], made better decisions. We were more aware of what was going on tonight.’’
The Bruins scored early, and there was a reasonable chance that particular goal would stand up as the game’s only tally. Milan Lucic fired a pass in front, and an alert David Krejci stopped the puck, deftly shifted it from his right to his left, and flipped in an artful backhander past Dwayne Roloson. The Bruins were on the scoreboard a mere one minute and nine seconds into the game.
Gee, you think Tim Thomas liked that?
It was the only goal the Bruins goaltender needed. He was, once again, good when he had to be and great when he had to be, but the truth is he only had to be great on rare occasions, one of them coming about five minutes after the Krejci goal.
Thomas had to contend with a bang-bang-bang sequence consisting of three shots in, oh, maybe 8-10 seconds. That had to raise his pulse rate a bit.
“Things happened pretty fast,’’ he said.
After making an initial stop, things got a little dicey.
“My momentum had carried me away,’’ he said, “and out of the corner of my eye I saw [the ever dangerous Vincent] Lecavalier. That’s when I had to do a spin, and I was able to get my leg on it in front of the net. The third one from [Martin] St. Louis, someone else stopped it before it ever got to me.’’
Well, OK, so he only made bang-bang saves, and not bang-bang-bang. But it was important stuff, all the same.
“Coming right after we had scored, it felt good,’’ Thomas declared. “I think it helped give our team confidence.’’
Forget the shots on goal numbers, which tell a big, fat lie. Tampa Bay may have had 31 shots to Boston’s 25, officially, but anyone who watched the game knows the preponderance of serious action was in front of Roloson, not Thomas. The Bruins forced the action throughout, taking full advantage of, among other things, the return to action of Patrice Bergeron, who lifted the team with his skill, energy, and just plain moxie. In contrast to the third period of Game 2, when the surging Lightning chopped a three-goal deficit to one and who seemed to have 117,000 chances in the final two minutes alone, the Bruins always seemed to be in firm control of this one, even though more than 50 minutes after the Krejci goal the score was still 1-0.
At that point, Andrew Ference unloaded a shot from blue-line territory on Roloson. About all that can be said with certainty is that there was a flurry of activity in front of Roloson and that somehow the puck dribbled through the ol’ five-hole and into the net. It was clearly 2-0 at 8:12; of that there was no doubt. But who dunnit?
It took more than 2 1/2 minutes before the PA man announced Golden Child Tyler Seguin as the perp. But there was even more review once the game was over, and at last came the official announcement: Ference, from Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly. Seguin? Ah, that would be a no. Perhaps the NHL should consider instituting a new category called “Team Goal.’’
If Julien was the happiest man in the house to see a game that was played, shall we say, systematically, close behind would have been Thomas. He could not have enjoyed the constant barrage of two-on-ones and three-on-twos that materialized in Game 2, which made table hockey look calm.
“It felt more like a ‘normal’ game that we played most of the year,’’ Thomas conceded. “Playoff games are faster and played with more energy with more chances than in regular-season games, but that was more like Boston Bruins hockey.’’
For Thomas, who has been magnificent more often than not the whole year, it was his first shutout of the Second Season. He was more than willing to credit his defense, and Julien agreed that it was a 50-50 deal.
And it really was a 2-0 butt-kicking, which guarantees nothing in the long run. Prepare to hear countless references to the concept of “Desperate Hockey’’ as the Lightning prepare for Game 4. Meanwhile, the Boston Bruins have 10 down and six to go, and no one can deny that.