Bruins’ three-goal lead slips away to the Lightning
TAMPA — The Bruins, up 3-0 in the second period, were well on their way to grabbing a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals yesterday when Mattias Ohlund started an ordinary sequence.
From deep in his end, Ohlund sent a hard clear up the ice that glanced off Ryan Malone. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas left the crease, settled the puck behind his net, and considered his options. He appeared to have plenty of time.
But Malone was bearing down on the left side. Simon Gagne was doing the same thing on the right. What appeared to be a natural handoff to Zdeno Chara was in peril.
All of a sudden, Thomas ran out of time.
“A goalie goes back to play the puck, you’re never completely natural at it anyway,’’ Thomas said. “Generally, I’d just go to Z. But he had a guy on him. I was just waiting for that guy to peel off, and he never did. We just kind of got caught. I didn’t want to just throw it at Z’s feet. But he thought it was coming to him. Little bit of miscommunication.’’
As Thomas and Chara botched the exchange, Malone barreled into the defenseman to force a turnover. Gagne gained control and found Teddy Purcell in front. With a quick dangle, Purcell pulled to his backhand and beat Thomas at 6:55.
“He got caught between passing and handling it himself,’’ Chara said of Thomas. “We just ran out of time and options. Just too many people.’’
All the control the Bruins had went poof. The next four goals went to the Lightning as they bulldozed the Bruins, 5-3, before 21,216 at St. Pete Times Forum. The series is tied, 2-2. Game 5 is tomorrow at TD Garden.
“When you’re up, you almost sit back a bit. You think that the game’s over,’’ said Brad Marchand. “I think that’s what we did. We thought we had them. We took it for granted. We just didn’t use it to our advantage. We didn’t keep pushing forward. That’s what we should have done.’’
As wretched as the Lightning were in the first — Dwayne Roloson, directly responsible for two goals, was pulled at 17:58 and will most likely not be seen again — they were 180 degrees better for the rest of the game. The Lightning, jolted to life by Malone and Gagne’s double-barreled forecheck and Purcell’s strike, continued to feed the same look at the shellshocked Bruins: speed, hunger, and ferocity.
The Lightning bludgeoned the Bruins for 40 minutes. Their dominance on the draw (60 percent success rate) was a big reason they had the puck time after time for rush after rush. The Lightning hammered the Bruins with wave upon wave of heavy pressure, sending multiple men to the net and making the defensemen look slower than turtles.
After the Bruins got caught running around in their zone, Purcell snapped a riser over Thomas at 7:58. In what was only a formality, the Lightning tied the game at 10:53 of the second. On the heels of a David Krejci giveaway, the Lightning went the other way. Tomas Kaberle went back for a dump-in, but Sean Bergenheim abused the defenseman with a heavy forecheck. After thumping Kaberle practically into the bay, Bergenheim scored on a wraparound to complete a three-goal rally over 3:58.
“They just turned it on us,’’ said Dennis Seidenberg. “In the first, we came out and played the game we wanted to. In the second, we just stopped playing.’’
Tampa Bay scored the winning goal in the third after a courageous defensive play by Kaberle. When Victor Hedman stepped into a slap shot, Kaberle filled the lane and absorbed all of the steamer’s power on his left foot. But Milan Lucic failed to reward Kaberle for blocking the shot.
Lucic found the rebound and started the breakout. However, he telegraphed a pass into the neutral zone for Nathan Horton. Malone had little trouble reading Lucic’s intentions, picked off the left wing’s pass, and went on the attack once more.
Kaberle, who was retreating to the bench after blocking Hedman’s shot, had to scramble back into defensive formation. Malone attempted a backhander that Seidenberg deflected with his stick. But the carom landed on the stick of Gagne, who snapped the puck five-hole at 6:55 to give the Lightning a 4-3 lead.
“Lucky bounce,’’ Seidenberg said. “He hit my stick. He wanted to get it on net. It went right to the high guy. From then on, he just got it on net and it went through Timmy’s legs.’’
The final insult was a Martin St. Louis empty-net goal at 19:23. As St. Louis and Gagne played give-and-go, a helpless Chara turned left and right, trying to keep the puck out of his net. He failed.
“They started getting speed, they started getting momentum,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “After they scored a few goals, it almost looked like we were paralyzed out there. We weren’t reacting. We weren’t holding. It just snowballed from there.’’