From the looks of the first period of Saturday afternoon’s game, the Boston Bruins were en route to trouncing the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 3-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Three quick goals – two of them unassisted tallies by Patrice Bergeron – gave Boston a decisive 3-0 first period lead, and Lightning playoff star Dwayne Roloson was unceremoniously chased from the Tampa net. The Lightning appeared to be completely shell-shocked, bad giveaways leading to each Boston goal, and there was virtually no sign that Tampa could skate with the suddenly explosive Bruins.
The Boston onslaught began when Tampa blueliner Victor Hedman misplayed the puck behind the Lightning goal, failing to connect on a pass to Brett Clark. Bergeron pounced on the loose puck and quickly fired it past Roloson to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. Just under five minutes later, Chris Kelly poke-checked the puck out of the neutral zone and onto the stick of an onrushing Michael Ryder, who flipped a backhand that caromed past Roloson to double the Bruins’ lead. And 84 seconds after that, Tampa made a mistake on their power play that seemingly sealed their fate. Steven Stamkos misplayed the puck on the point of the power play, letting Bergeron enjoy a shorthanded rush that ended with a 35-foot wrist shot sailing between Roloson’s legs.
At that point, Lightning coach Guy Boucher pulled Roloson in favor of back-up Mike Smith, and it served to completely change the momentum of the game in Tampa’s favor.
In the second period, the sloppiness shifted direction, with the Bruins suddenly plagued by a turnover epidemic, and in just under four minutes, the three-goal lead evaporated. The Lightning killed off a questionable goaltender interference penalty to Simon Gagne early in the second stanza, and then surprise hero Teddy Purcell went to work. In a span of just 63 seconds, he tallied twice, completely re-energizing the crowd and putting the Bruins on their heels for what turned out to be the duration of the contest.
Purcell’s first goal came when Tim Thomas and Zdeno Chara had a miscommunication behind the Boston net, allowing Gagne to deliver a nifty feed to the slot. Purcell shifted the puck to his backhand, then flipped it past Thomas to give the Lightning their first goal. Sixty-three seconds later, Purcell took a cross-ice feed from Mattias Öhlund, stepping up into the slot before firing a laser beam over Thomas’s shoulder and into the back of the net.
Just under three minutes later, Sean Bergenheim continued his improbably Maurice Richard impersonation and carried the puck out from behind the Bruins’ net and fired a wrist shot past Thomas to even the score at three.
The score remained tied into the third stanza, but the momentum remained squarely on the Tampa side.
Simon Gagne gave the Lightning their first lead of the game, taking a deft backhand feed from Ryan Malone and burying a wrist shot past Thomas. The Bruins were out-shot 14-8 in the third, never really showing the determination needed to retake the momentum.
Given how long it’s been since the Bruins have appeared in the Cup Finals (1990) much less won it all (1972), it was surprising to see them fail to play more aggressively in the game’s closing minutes. The Tampa victory was certified when Martin St. Louis scored an empty-net goal, finalizing the score at 5-3.
It isn’t pretty, the meshing of these team’s styles, and no one would ever mistake the quality of play for what’s being seen in the Western Conference Finals. But it’s clear that both teams are quite formidable, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens when the winner of this series – now even at two games apiece – goes head to head with the winner of the Canucks-Sharks masterpiece.
The Bruins and Lightning resume things at 8 p.m. on Monday night in Boston in what should be a highly entertaining Game 5. Look for the vociferous Boston crowd to instill a greater sense of urgency in the Bruins, who failed to capitalize on a magnificent opportunity to take a 3-1 series lead on road ice.