It’s no surprise that the tension in the Garden was palpable all night during Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Lightning. Seventh games tend to have that effect.
But for Bruins fans hungry to see their team make the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990, the tension hit its peak between the second and third periods.
The Bruins had for the most part carried play through the first 40 minutes, outshooting the Lightning, 29-17. But 41-year-old Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson, who played at UMass-Lowell what feels like a generation ago, was nothing short of sensational, stopping everything the Bruins aimed in his direction.
If there was a concern among fans that that Roloson’s ability to keep the Bruins off the board would lead to Tampa Bay stealing it on a fluky goal, it might have been justified. But the Bruins themselves never thought that way, maintaining their resolve even when frustration could have seeped in.
The evidence that the Bruins always kept their faith even as Roloson stymied them time and again became clear to Julien in the second intermission.
“When I walked into the locker room before the third period, I didn’t have much to say,” said Julien. “When I was outside, I could hear the points they were making, and they were bang-on. The attitude was that eventually we will get rewarded. And that’s exactly what happened. I couldn’t be prouder of the approach we took all throughout this game. We never let up once.”
The victory also was a vindication of sorts for the coach, who as recently as the first-round series with Montreal — in which the Bruins lost the first two games before winning in seven — was perceived to be coaching for his job in some corners. Julien said that talk never gets to him.
“I say this all the time, but I don’t care what anyone says. It doesn’t bother me, and I don’t really hear it,” he said. “What matters to me is what happens in that dressing room. And as much as I’m getting criticism from some people, I’m getting pats on the back from others.”
After the Bruins victory tonight, Julien can expect many more of the latter.
“Claude is a terrific coach,” goalie Tim Thomas said. “Everyone in this locker room knew that long before tonight.”
The verbal support is nice, Julien said. But it’s no match for what his team did on the ice.
“I could not have asked for a better game from our team,” he said, “especially under the circumstances.”