NHL Eastern Conference Final Game 3 - Boston 2, Tampa Bay 0 - Bruins lead series, 2-1
The first two games of the Eastern Conference finals were lacking flow, form, and any sense that the Boston Bruins could control the Tampa Bay Lightning. On Thursday night in St. Petersburg, Florida, that all changed.
In the first two games of this best-of-seven showdown for the Prince of Wales Trophy, Boston was lucky to get a split on home ice against the fast-skating Bolts, whose puckhandling skills and open-ice talents flustered Boston goaltender Tim Thomas at every turn. Tampa Bay ran circles around Boston in the third period of Game 2 on Tuesday, falling short only because Thomas made some clutch saves… and because the Lightning fell apart in a second period that witnessed five goals for the Bruins. When the series shifted to the state of Florida for Game 3, the smart money suggested that Tampa Bay would assert itself. However, just when Boston’s outlook was beginning to grow dim, the Bruins – an ever-resilient bunch – produced the pendulum-swinging kind of contest they so desperately needed.
If Boston’s defense and goaltending were positively sieve-like in Games 1 and 2, they morphed into a brick wall in Game 3. Yes, Tampa Bay generated 31 shots on Thomas, but very few were high-quality, “oh-that-should-have-gone-in” chances. Thomas used excellent position to turn away every shot that came his way on Thursday, but what’s even more important is that after two games in Boston that featured horrible rebound control by the 37-year-old goalie, the Bruins’ defensemen were able to sweep away rebounds from the slot as soon as they materialized. Boston had two bodies in front of Thomas to clean up any messes that oh-so-briefly emerged.
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With manifest attention to detail on defense, Boston stifled multiple power plays by the Lightning in the third period, and with a 1-0 lead already in tow thanks to a David Krejci goal 1:09 into the game, the Bs felt a growing sense of unsettledness throughout the Tampa Bay roster. The Bruins patiently bided their time and then got the break that put the Bolts away. With 8:12 gone in the third, Boston’s Andrew Ference let loose with a shot from the left face-off circle that somehow trickled through the legs of Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson. The 41-year-old netminder played a very strong game on a night when the Bruins earned high-level scoring opportunities, but this one soft goal drove a stake into the Bolts’ hearts, quieting the crowd at the St. Pete Times Forum in the Sunshine State. Boston muzzled Tampa Bay over the final 11-plus minutes, and in a manner that was paradoxically quiet yet also loud, the Bruins transformed the tenor of this series.
Tampa Bay did erase a 3-1 series deficit in the first round of these playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but if the Bolts were to do the same thing again versus Boston, the odds would truly be defied. Game 4 is a must-win for Tampa Bay. There’s really no other way to look at the East finals after a perception-busting Game 3 breakthrough by Boston.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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