Win was needed, drama wasn’t
Before it’s done they’re liable to give you a haht attack. You know, they’re gonna mess with your tickah.
“It was very nerve-racking, the last half of the game,’’ said the Bruins’ Brad Marchand, whose goal at 15:56 of the second period was the actual game-winner. “We were like little kids, very excited. But it was nerve-racking.’’
Hey, Brad. You only played in it. That’s the easy part. Your fans had to watch it, worrying until the Rich Peverley empty-net goal at 19:47 of period three that some unspeakable disaster would occur.
With their 3-1 triumph over the Lightning last night at TD Garden, the Bruins took a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. The teams head back to the St. Pete Forum tomorrow night. I doubt Bruins goalie Tim Thomas will be assuring victory. Hoping for one, sure. But guaranteeing one? Not likely.
But the cold fact is the Bruins are one win away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since 1990. That’s easy for any of us to say, but it’s not exactly what a cagey vet like Thomas wishes to hear.
“That isn’t what we need to focus on, or what I’m worried about, that we need one win to get to the Stanley Cup Final,’’ he said. “We just need to approach this the way we have for the whole playoffs — keep it simple.’’
He spoke from the perspective of a man who was beaten on a two-on-one just 1:09 after the puck was dropped (emanating from a turnover), and who then pitched a shutout in the remaining 98.3 percent of the game. That’s pretty much like giving up a leadoff bloop single and then retiring the next 27 men in order.
The Bruins won it in what is becoming typical Bruins fashion; that is to say, without the help of the power play. They had four more cracks at it, including a four-on-three opportunity for 1:37 of the second period, and to say the effort was pathetic would be exceedingly kind. The great ongoing mystery of the 2011 playoffs is how a team that has succeeded on 7.1 percent (4 for 56) of its power-play attempts can be one win from the Final. It is a unique M.O., not one likely to emulated by anyone as long as the National Hockey League remains in existence.
Claude Julien’s team won without generating much in the way of offense. At the eight-minute mark of period three, the Bruins were being outshot, 31-12.
Thomas was probably standing there saying, “Hey, whose side are you guys on?’’ He was doing all the work. Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith was on the verge of getting bored. But the Bruins were ahead, 2-1, thanks to a pair of superb collaborations, the first a Milan Lucic feed to Nathan Horton, who one-timed a bullet past Smith; and the second a positively gorgeous Patrice Bergeron cross-ice feed to an awaiting Marchand, who was stationed to Smith’s right and who deftly slipped it past the backup, who had been given the start in the wake of his outstanding relief of Dwayne Roloson Saturday.
In the end, all was good because Thomas was once again immense in the big moments — they will talk about a third-period stick save he made on Steve Downie for years — and because after that opening miscue, in which David Krejci was separated from the puck by Brett Clark, leading to a Steve Stamkos-Simon Gagne rush, the Bruins pretty much took care of business.
Of course, nobody’s perfect, and it’s not as if they never lost the puck in a potentially damaging way, or never lost a faceoff, but they kept the mistakes to a minimum.
In other words, the game never got “stretched out,’’ as the coach likes to say.
But Tampa Bay is made of stern stuff. The Lightning have a lot of people who can hurt you when the puck touches their stick, and they have demonstrated beyond doubt that they do not quit. Thomas was indeed tested in that final period. The save on Downie was worth four stars, and another one on Blair Jones early in the period was worth three and a half.
It sure didn’t start out well, with Gagne scoring at 1:09. “When that happens two thoughts cross your mind,’’ Thomas said. “The first is, ‘If another two-on-one comes, I’ve got to stop it because we don’t want to be down, 2-0.’ The other is that it’s actually a fun thing. It relaxes you a little bit.’’
Thomas, the coach, and the fans might relax on occasion if the Bruins could take advantage of a power play now and then. This thing really is getting ridiculous. It’s too bad this isn’t football, where you can refuse a penalty. The Bruins seem to prefer five-on-five hockey. It would be nice if in lieu of being forced into a man advantage they could maintain the even-strength situation. The opponent could donate $500 to a favored Bruins charity, and the game could proceed.
That’s not likely to be enacted before tomorrow night’s game, so be prepared for more drama. The Bruins are in good shape to win this series, but it’s obvious they are determined to make you suffer before anyone can declare “Mission Accomplished.’’