Bruins trip Tampa, take 3-2 series lead
As coach Claude Julien said after last night’s game, nothing can be perfect. A team that barely shows a pulse in the first period can come alive later in the game. A goalie who submits an average performance one night can turn in a dazzler a game later. A line that stinks up the joint in one game can show exquisite hockey sense to score a game-changing goal.
So in the end, it comes down to timing. Last night before 17,565 at TD Garden, the Bruins didn’t play their best game. But they chose the right times during the game to be at their best in a 3-1 win.
David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton, the first-line anchors who played with flickering heartbeats in Game 4, all connected on the Bruins’ opening goal. Brad Marchand, a pit bull out of control in the first period, settled himself and scored the winner.
But nobody had a better sense of timing than Tim Thomas. Halfway through the third period, when an Eric Brewer shot caromed off the end boards to the blade of Steve Downie, Thomas made one of his trademark dives. Downie should have scored the tying goal. Instead, Thomas pulled off the theft of a career when he lunged and stuck the blade of his Reebok battle axe in front of Downie’s shot.
“I’ll admit,’’ said Thomas, “that I got a little bit lucky there.’’
The Bruins were lucky to be down only 1-0 after 20 minutes. They were outshot, 14-4, and had been beaten in every battle. Brett Clark tossed Krejci to the ice to start a rush that ended with Simon Gagne beating Thomas just 69 seconds into the game.
But Krejci redeemed himself. In Game 4, Krejci was manhandled on the draw. He lost 9 of 12 faceoffs, a big reason the Bruins lost the puck-possession game.
In the second period, when Krejci lowered himself into the faceoff circle against Dominic Moore, he was ready for redemption. Krejci won the draw, which initiated the sequence of a set piece from a coach’s dream.
“David was very good on faceoffs tonight,’’ Julien said of his No. 1 center (14 of 22 on the draw). “That allowed them to use those plays. When you don’t win faceoffs, you can’t get those scoring chances. David responded really well.’’
Krejci pulled the puck back for Lucic, who then usually looks to the point, either to Tomas Kaberle or Johnny Boychuk, to relieve pressure. But Lucic read that Adam Hall was making a beeline for Kaberle at the blue line to close off the play.
“I think it was because the D-man crossed,’’ Lucic said when asked why he didn’t go to the point. “They were setting up for the one-timer with Kabby and Johnny, and they crossed. The guy that was on the boards, the defenseman, wasn’t there. So I thought, ‘OK, just keep going down.’ ’’
So instead of going up to the point, Lucic rotated down the right-side wall. At the same time, Krejci drove to the net and took Moore with him. Because Krejci provided net drive, it opened up a passing lane for Horton, who had rotated to the slot.
Before then, Horton hadn’t done himself or his team many favors, either last night or in the 5-3 Game 4 loss. On Saturday, Horton had one lousy shot in 18:11 of ice time.
Early last night, Horton was spending more time in the box than on the ice. At 19:09 of the first, Horton was sent off for interference after he bulldozed Nate Thompson along the boards. Then at 2:07 of the second, Horton was directed to the penalty box for another interference penalty when he ran over Victor Hedman.
The Boston penalty killers had Horton’s back. And Horton rewarded them.
Lucic fed Horton with some backhand sauce. Horton stepped into the pass. And with one strike, Ho-Ho Horty, as Lucic likes to call his linemate, catapulted a one-timer past Mike Smith for the tying goal at 4:24 of the second.
“It’s easy to make a pass when your linemate gets open like that,’’ Lucic said. “Horty, he’s shown since he’s been in the league that when he gets a scoring opportunity in that spot, he’s very dangerous.’’
Later in the second, Zdeno Chara picked the right time to attack the neutral zone. The Lightning thrive on clogging up center ice and preventing clean rushes over the blue line. But Chara saw a slack gap and charged through center ice, gaining the offensive zone with a soft self-chip off the right-side boards. With some help from Marchand, Chara kept the cycle going and drew Hedman his way.
With Hedman out of position, Chara pushed the puck forward to Patrice Bergeron. Marchand charged to the far post, knowing that Bergeron would feed him a tape-to-tape treat.
Marchand was right. He blew past Martin St. Louis, fought off the winger’s backcheck, and kept his stick flat on the ice in anticipation of Bergeron’s dish. It arrived, Marchand scored, and the Bruins had the winner they needed.
“We’ve got two games here to win one,’’ Julien said. “Our goal right now is not to play Game 7. I know their goal is to create a Game 7. There’s the difference between the two teams.’’