About 2:15 p.m. on Saturday, all was well in Boston. The Bruins looked great in the first period and held a 3-0 lead over Tampa Bay in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Tim Thomas had not surrendered a goal in over 90 minutes of play, and they had forced Dwayne Roloson to the bench in favor of back-up Mike Smith. Everything seemed pointed toward a second straight road win and a 3-1 series lead.
And, then, it all fell apart.
The Lightning scored three goals in under 4 minutes in the second period to tie the game, and then Bruin-killer Simon Gagne got the game-winner midway through the third to shock the Bruins, 5-3, and tie the series at two games each.
Of course, the critics of Claude Julien came out blasting, calling for the coach’s head because the team blew another 3-0 lead (in case you have forgotten, the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7 of last year’s semifinal series with Philadelphia.
Though I am no fan of Julien, I am not sure he is to blame for the loss. After all, he wasn’t on the ice for any of the goals; he did not have a brain freeze like Tim Thomas did on the first goal; he didn’t get knocked off the puck like a rag doll like Tomas Kaberle did on Sean Bergenheim’s tying goal; he did not allow the Tampa forwards time and space; and he did not cough the puck up in the neutral zone on the winning goal like Milan Lucic did.
Thomas summed up the truth perfectly in his post-game comments, saying, “We got outworked. Somehow, they took over. They took the play to us. They started getting scoring chances, and we stopped getting scoring chances.”
Getting outworked is not the fault of the coach, it is the fault of the players. Claude is not perfect as a coach and deserves some criticism for perhaps trying to sit on the lead, but if the Bruins players don’t throw up on themselves and throw the puck away, they win that game regardless of the style they played.
As disappointing as Saturday’s game was for Boston fans, it should be pointed out that the Bruins did what they needed to do when they left for Florida on Wednesday: win one game and regain home ice advantage. It is a best-of-three series and Boston has two games at home, which should be an advantage.
Saturday’s collapse could be devastating, but I think the Bruins will bounce back. They are a resilient bunch, and have battled back several times when people have buried them. They have always played well when people think they are down and out, particularly Thomas, and I would expect the Bruins come out and play well on Monday night.
Four players who stepped it up on Saturday:
Teddy Purcell had two huge goals to get Tampa Bay some life. His second goal was a great shot, as he rifled a shot short-side, just over the shoulder of Thomas and just under the crossbar to pull the Lightning to within 3-2 and put the Bruins on their heels.
Sean Bergenheim had been quiet since a big goal in Game 1, but his play on Saturday more than made up for it. He banged Tomas Kaberle off the puck behind the net, wheeled out in front, and somehow got a shot off with four Boston players in the area to tie the game at 3-3.
Simon Gagne did what he does best, score big goals. He has always been a
clutch player and he has been a Bruin-killer for a while. He read the play perfectly, following Ryan Malone after the turnover and firing a quick shot past Thomas.
Mike Smith did the job in relief of Roloson, making 21 saves. He was at his best when it was 3-0, making several stops on back-to-back Boston power plays, and then right after Tampa tied it, as Boston swarmed around the net for a bit.
Three players who wilted under the pressure …
Milan Lucic not only turned the puck over on the winning goal, he also chased Malone instead of picking up Gagne. He has been brutal in the playoffs.
Tim Thomas gave the puck away on the first goal, and probably would like to have Bergenheim’s goal back as well. Too many soft goals in a big playoff game.
Tomas Kaberle may have had an assist, but he also got knocked off the puck (easily) on Bergenheim’s goal, and slid into Thomas on Gagne’s game-winner. I’d give Toronto another pick to take him back right now.
Two other key moments …
Steve Downie left the game with an injury late in the second period. Forget the diving call, which was a bad call; the real story is the fact Downie could be out. He is one of Tapa’s key energy guys, and has been tremendous throughout the playoffs.
Smith’s saves on Chara early in the third. With the score tied, Chara walked right in after a perfect drop pass from Bergeron. Smith not only stopped Chara’s blast from the hashmarks, but also the rebound.
One prediction …
This series has become almost impossible to predict. Boston likely will bounce back and play well, but it’s also likely Tampa will also play well. These are two great teams, and my only prediction at this point is that it will be a great game on Monday night.
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