2011 NHL Eastern Conference Finals Game 4 - Tampa Bay 5, Boston 3 – Series tied, 2-2
In the span of four minutes, a series and a season might have changed on a dime. If one brief but very effective flurry catapults the Tampa Bay Lightning to victory in the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals, the reverberations from those four minutes will be felt for a good long while in the offseason and beyond.
It was all going perfectly for the visiting Boston Bruins on Saturday afternoon at the St. Pete Times Forum near the West Coast of the state of Florida. Already up 2-1 in the series after an excellence road performance in Game 3 on Thursday, the Bruins rocketed to a three-goal lead thanks to a dominant first period created, in large part, by careless Tampa Bay turnovers. The flustered Lightning repeatedly gave away the puck near their own goal mouth, and the Bruins promptly pounced on the opportunities they were given. Patrice Bergeron put the biscuit in the basket on two separate occasions while Michael Ryder added a tally of his own. In just six minutes and 11 seconds, Boston posted three goals against a lost and dazed Dwayne Roloson. Tampa Bay’s goaltender, who had been so strong in the first two rounds against Pittsburgh and Washington, looked nothing like the man who had brought the Bolts to this stage of the playoffs. The Bruins chased the star of the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs and had silenced a crowd that was looking for a reason to believe in its hockey heroes. It was apparent that Boston had gained a tremendous amount of belief after its steely win in Game 3. The same Bruins who looked down and out after two games against Montreal in the first round had become a completely different team. A 3-1 series lead felt like an almost-certain proposition, and a franchise that had been haunted by blowing three-goal leads – as was the case last year in Game 7 of the second round against the Philadelphia Flyers – was smelling a kill shot. The long-beleaguered Bruins were on the cusp of gaining total control of this series, and with it, a ticket to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
It was all there. The Bruins were on top of their game, and they had to be exuding confidence.
Then, just as surely as they ascended to the heights of performance and self-belief, they lost those precious qualities. In four minutes, the Lightning snatched away everything the Bruins had worked so hard to establish.
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The turnovers that Boston benefited from in the first period suddenly killed the visitors from New England in the second stanza. Teddy Purcell jumped on the Bruins by grabbing a loose puck near the slot and flipping a backhand past Boston goalie Tim Thomas with 6:55 gone in the second to make the score 3-1 in favor of the Bruins. Then, Purcell zipped a wicked slap shot past Thomas from the right face-off circle to make the score 3-2 just 63 seconds later. Before the crowd in St. Petersburg could settle down, Sean Berghenheim gobbled up a turnover by the Bruins just behind Thomas. He spun out of traffic and beat Thomas from the right doorstep to tie the score. Just like that, Boston’s grip on the series was gone. Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith stonewalled the Bruins in relief of Roloson, but he didn’t even have to make many saves. The Bolts surged after their four-minute explosion, blanking the Bruins and posting two third-period goals by Simon Gagne and Martin St. Louis. The comprehensive domination demonstrated by Boston turned into even greater brilliance by the Bolts, and now this is an even-steven series as it heads to New England for Game 5.
If the Bruins lose this series one spring after blowing the East semis against Philadelphia, it will be one more stomach punch for a hard-luck franchise. A Game 5 bounce-back is not optional for Boston, even though it technically won’t be an elimination game. Bank on it at TD Garden.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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