Perfect execution resulted in dead Bolts
As simple and straightforward as all that sounds, that’s precisely how the Bruins went about their business to reach the finals for the first time since 1990.
They pressured the puck. They weren’t whistled for a single penalty (essential for a club that essentially has no power play). They charged to the Tampa net, stayed around it or near it most of the night. The few times the Bolts looked as if they could create some mayhem in the Bruins’ end, the 60-minute, five-man, gotcha-by-the-collar Boston unit closed up faster than a Venus flytrap mainlining a three-gallon jug of Miracle-Gro.
“I honestly have to say yes,’’ said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, asked if what happened last night at the Garden fulfilled the game plan as perfectly as it could be. “We were mentally sharp all night. They didn’t have a lot of shots. And in the first period, we had 15-16 chances. In Games 5 and 6, we weren’t challenging as much, maybe we had 15-20 chances a game. But tonight, especially mentally, we were just so sharp. No one really broke, tried to do anything different.’’
Trust the system. How hard has it been to hear that some nights? Coach Claude Julien’s north-south, defensive-based game plan so often has been tough on the eyes, lacking in eye-catching play or creativeness. But not last night, not with a trip to the finals in the balance and not with 18 skaters buying in every shift, every inch, every minute. Simplicity can be so beautiful when delivered without blemish.
Play after play, on the money, and eventually money in the bank when Nathan Horton found space between defensemen Eric Brewer and Mattias Ohlund and tapped David Krejci’s centering feed into the open right side of the net. It was the 35th shot on Roloson, and it left the Lightning only 7:33 to save their season.
“It came down to who would make a mistake,’’ said Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher, “and it was us. In the end, they deserved that goal. They made it happen and they are going to the Stanley Cup finals.’’
The Bruins not only trusted the system, they owned it. They closed down passing lanes. They made the neutral zone a hard-hat area. They again led the way at the faceoff dot (winning 35 of 61 drops for a 57 percent success rate). They matched the Lightning hit for hit (23 each) and, most of all, they kept the play in front of them and on the “good’’ side of the red line (final shots: Boston, 38-24).
That boring Julien system? Not so mind-numbing when everyone buys in for the full 60, including rookie Tyler Seguin (seven shots, three on net, even one hit). The kid logged a beefy 14:53, 10 more seconds, in fact, than first-line right winger Horton. Even Tomas Kaberle remained upright and didn’t hurt the chemistry, pitching in with 13:06, landing a shot, and contributing two of the club’s 17 blocked shots (Dennis Seidenberg led the way with eight).
“We played our best game of the playoffs today,’’ said 43-year-old winger Mark Recchi. “We controlled the game against a tough Tampa team.’’
Julien also was at his sharpest, breaking form ever so slightly but significantly at the 11-minute mark of the third period with the score still 0-0 when he called a timeout prior to a faceoff in Boston’s defensive end. Yes, a timeout, you can look it up. This was the same Julien who opted not to call a timeout in Game 4, when the Lightning erased a 3-0 lead and raced off with a win.
Last night, Julien didn’t like what he saw, gave his club a blow, and only 1:14 later, Horton banged home the game-set-match winner. Coincidence? No way of knowing. But the timeout felt right and it was followed by the winner, only 13 seconds after the Milan Lucic-Krejci-Horton line rolled out for a faceoff. Some things we take to be self-evident.
For the remaining 7:33, the Bruins allowed the Bolts to get to their net for only two more shots, the crowd urging them on with chants of “Let’s Go Bruins!’’ and “We Want the Cup!’’ It looked as if Bolts sniper Teddy Purcell would have a great chance on the left wing at 17:30 until he was caught by Johnny Boychuk and ridden into the left corner without squeezing off a shot. Heavy game. Just what the Bruins wanted, five-on-five all night, make the Lightning work for every shot.
With one minute to go, the ever-alert Patrice Bergeron intercepted a Brewer pass in the neutral zone, the Bolts again foiled. And for the last 44 seconds, Julien rolled out a line with Bergeron centering Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, backed by Chara and Seidenberg, who averaged 27:20 ice time between them. Kelly and Peverley were trade deadline pickups, acquired to be just the kind of solid, stabilizing forces that a coach can reach for in tight moments to close out games.
All in all, it was a night in which the Bruins gave the Bolts exactly what they wanted to give them — nothing — and now they get to party again like it’s 1990. Four more W’s, and they’ll get to party like it’s 1972.
You might want to break out the Nehru jacket, bellbottoms, and grow out the mutton-chop sideburns. This is beginning to look just perfect.