It’s truly a magical thing to watch when “Will meets Skill” to go along with a refusal to lose. And that is what the fans around the NHL watched tonight as the Tampa Bay Lightning forced a Game 7 against the Boston Bruins with their 5-4 victory at the St. Pete Times Forum Wednesday.
When the games are the biggest and the lights are the brightest, one of the biggest plays of the year for the Lightning was made by one of the champions in the locker room, Martin St Louis, as he scored on a backhand to tie the score at two goals apiece at 7:55 of the second period.
It came not a moment too soon for the Bolts, as the team was scrambling to get the tying goal. The Lightning were playing a little too tightly-wound for the first time all year long, as they appeared to be feeling the pressure of an elimination game in the Eastern Conference Finals.
St. Louis said before the game that he, Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos had to come up big. Well those guys combined for eight points, with Stamkos and St. Louis each having three points and Lecavalier chipping in with two assists.
“This is why you play the game; these are the games that get your fire going,” St. Louis said.
“I expected those guys to come up big tonight and they did,” head coach Guy Boucher saidabout the trio
Lecavalier started the night off well for the Bolts, as he cleanly won a faceoff back to Teddy Purcell, who was able to rip a wrist shot stick side past Tim Thomas to open the scoring only 36 seconds into the game to give the Bolts a 1-0 lead.
The crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum was electric during pre-game, and when Purcell scored, the building stood as one to cheer the goal. It was a nice reminder of how great the fans in Tampa have been all year long, a point that needs reiterating because the national sports media continuously disregards the fans in this marketplace.
Milan Lucic quieted the raucous crowd with a wrist shot from above the faceoff circle, which beat Roloson glove side at 7:09 to tie the score at 1-1. On the play, Victor Hedman was not aggressive enough on the puck, missing a chance to poke check it away from Lucic. As a result, Lucic was able to use Hedman as a screen and shoot the puck between the young defenseman’s legs.
Another turnover at the blue line was costly for the Lightning, when Stamkos fumbled the puck to Daniel Paille. Paille quickly fed a pass to David Krejci, who again shot high to the glove side on Roloson to give Boston the lead 2-1 at 16:30 of the first period. Although the flow of the game was clearly tilted in Tampa’s favor in the early going, when Boston scored the tying goal it seemed to halt the Bolts’ momentum.
A star may have been born in this series for the Bolts, as Purcell scored his second goal of the game on the power play at 13:35 of the second period, giving him four goals in the last three games and a a total of five goals in the series. Following Purcell’s goal, Lightning fans belted out “Ole Ole Ole” to the heavens as their team answered the call and the pressure of the Eastern Conference Finals with an inspired effort.
The power play came thru big once again only 34 seconds into the third period, as they scored their third man-advantage marker of the game. Stamkos extended the Lightning lead to 4-2, scoring from his “office” on the right faceoff dot when he muscled the puck past Thomas. “Hammer Time” played in the Forum one more time.
“Power plays were the difference tonight and I also didn’t agree with all of the calls tonight,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien about the special teams and the officiating. “With all of the talk before the game, I would be disappointed if that made a difference.”
Boucher was quick to point out that Boston had more power play chances than his club, “Five chances to four chances tonight, so who really had the advantage?”
Krejci made things interesting for the Bruins as he knocked in a power play goal at 9:46 of the third period to cut the lead to one, but 31 seconds later Stamkos flipped a puck to center ice that started a masterful two-on-one between Downie and St. Louis, culminating with St. Louis scoring his second goal of the game to restore Tampa’s two-goal lead.
But Boston icon Cam Neely got to rise up and cheer in the press box one more time, as his team continued to battle. Krejci completed his masterful hat trick when he tipped a puck from Lucic past the Lightning netminder to cut the Tampa’s lead to one at 5-4 with just under seven minutes still on the clock. But Roloson and the Lightning held onto the slim lead, and the teams now return to Boston for Friday night’s Game 7.
Game 6 nicely typified this series, with the ebb and flow changing within the game just as it has in the series, and it was one of the most entertaining games in Lightning franchise history.
Many pundits counted Tampa out before Game 6, and even more jumped on the Bruins’ bandwagon after Boston took a lead into the first intermission, but this special group of players and coaches continued to amaze all who has followed them this year. They play this game for each other and it was truly amazing to watch them believe in one another to bring this franchise to yet another playoff Game 7, and Boucher deserves the credit for developing that culture in the locker room.
This series has been unlike any series in the NHL in years, as no one can predict what is going to happen next.