2011 NHL Eastern Conference Finals Game 7 - Boston 1, Tampa Bay 0 – Bruins win series, 4-3
The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning played a Game 7, they won by a 1-0 score on the road against a team whose colors were black and gold. The last time the Boston Bruins played a Game 7, they beat a hated nemesis to gain the confidence that they lost in 2010 during their unforgettable implosion against the Philadelphia Flyers. Something was going to give in the conclusion of the NHL’s Eastern Conference finals.
It wasn’t the 1-0 score – it held true. It wasn’t Tampa Bay’s level of goaltending – Dwayne Roloson was spectacular in net for the Lightning. No, what ultimately rose to the surface on Friday night at TD Garden in Boston was the ability of a franchise to bury its disappointing past and finally forge an achievement worth celebrating. Yes, the city of Boston – long accustomed to success in basketball – can once again acknowledge a springtime in which its hockey team delivered the goods.
It’s true that in the world of professional hockey, nothing but the Stanley Cup truly satisfies. However, in light of the fact that one and only one team can lift the most revered trophy in North American team sports each season, it’s quite significant to merely reach the final round of the NHL postseason. The vast preponderance of regular-season competition occurs against one’s conference brethren, so the claiming of a conference crown deserves more than a little commendation. It was satisfying on a personal level for Boston to fend off Montreal in its first round series back in late April, but that seven-game triumph would have meant precious little if the Bs hadn’t been able to win the East for the first time since 1990.
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Here’s the perspective which illuminates that previous statement: From 1965 through 1979, the Bruins were perennial Cup contenders; either Boston or Montreal made the Stanley Cup finals in every one of those years save 1975. However, since 1978, the Bruins had only made the final round of the NHL playoffs on two occasions, 1988 and 1990. This franchise will be gutted if it loses the Stanley Cup finals to the Vancouver Canucks over the next two weeks, but when this season ultimately ends, the Bruins – thanks to Friday night’s final victory over Tampa Bay in a classic contest – will be able to greet their summer with the awareness that they met the expectations placed upon them by both the National Hockey League and their fan base. Winning a conference championship stamps this season as a success; it’s just that the fullest measure of accomplishment is still waiting to be attained.
Just how did Boston do the deed on an electric night in Beantown? The third-seeded Bruins decisively outplayed the fifth-seeded Bolts, winning most face-offs and a strong majority of battles along the boards and in the corners. Tampa Bay’s three series wins all coincided with five-goal performances, while Boston won the only two games of the series that featured three goals or fewer. This figured to shape the way Game 7 unfolded, and with the Bruins limiting Tampa Bay to 24 shots, it’s clear that Boston played the kind of game it wanted. On a general level, Boston was superior from start to finish.
There’s just one problem with general dominance in one hockey game: Elite goaltending from the opposing netminder can ruin a night. The Bruins needed to make sure they didn’t give up a soft goal, and they needed to be persistent when Roloson – who stopped 37 of 38 shots for Tampa Bay – stood on his head.
Sure enough, coach Claude Julien’s Boston roster was up to the task – it stayed the course long enough to outlast coach Guy Boucher’s Bolts in a clean and elegant game that, remarkably, didn’t feature a single penalty all evening.
Two plays will linger in the collective memory. The first came in the second period of what was, at the time, a scoreless tie. Tampa Bay’s Simon Gagne found a rebound in the slot, but Boston goalie Tim Thomas was able to make a major-league save, one of 24 on the night. The Lightning didn’t get a lot of high-quality scoring chances in this game, but that was the best Bolt from the blue the visitors could muster. Thomas’s ability to stand tall during a game in which he wasn’t frequently tested spoke volumes about the 37-year-old’s focus.
The second play was the play that catapulted Boston back to the Stanley Cup finals. With 7:33 left in the third period, David Krejci skated up the left side of the ice and made a perfect pass to a streaking Nathan Horton, who sped toward the crease and tapped the puck past Roloson, who had no chance as he anticipated a Krejci slapshot. Horton scored an overtime goal in Game 5 of the Montreal series, and he was once again the man who made a magic moment for his team. The final seven minutes were tense and thrilling, as the Lightning unleashed a number of strong rushes up the ice, but Boston’s defense was too good. The last 90 seconds of regulation passed without a single threatening shot on goal, and the Bruins ran the clock out in possession of the puck near center ice.
The Bruins’ collapse last year against Philadelphia ended in a Game 7 at home. This win over Tampa Bay – a championship-winning conquest – will do a great deal to even more fully minimize that haunting memory.
For once, the Boston Bruins won’t have to deal with demons in their offseason. They can attack the Vancouver Canucks and know that even if they fall short, they have already chased away their reputation as playoff failures.
By: Matt Zemek
ProHockey-fans.com Staff Writer
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