A minute into last night’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, both Twitter and Facebook were blowing up about it being “Tuukka Time” – in other words, benching Tim Thomas and replacing him with Tuukka Rask.
After the way the next 58:57 went, you would be hard pressed to find anyone – save Tampa Bay Lightning fans – who thinks that is a viable option.
Thomas was brilliant last night, making 33 saves, to steal Game 5 for the Bruins, 3-1, and give his team a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Wednesday night. Thomas was at his best early in the game, making 13 saves in an opening period dominated by the Lightning, and at the end, as his diving stick save on Steve Downie in the third period will be the stuff of legends should the Bruins go on to win the series.
The save on Downie was huge for multiple reasons. One, it was just unbelievable. Two, the Bruins were on their heels at that point and momentum was starting to turn Tampa’s way again. And three, it preserved a 2-1 lead late in the game.
The save happened as the Bruins scrambled in their own end under immense pressure from the Bolts. Eric Brewer’s blast from the point went just wide to Thomas’ left, and the puck caromed off the backboards to Thomas’ right. Downie swooped in and fired a shot about 2 feet off the ice and just off the post, but Thomas scrambled back across the crease and just got his stick far enough to stop the puck and send it off to the corner with just over half the third period remaining.
The rest is history, as the Bruins held off the Lightning and Rich Peverley added an empty-net goal to seal the win.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher gushed over the save, and was guilty of a bit of exaggeration, saying, “Against this goaltender, you need more; you need more. You need miracles. (Thomas) is making miracles. We have to come up with miracles.”
The Lightning probably do not need a miracle, but they do need ton find a way to beat Thomas, who has Boston of the verge of the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
Thomas made the save sound routine, and for him, it probably was. Those who see Thomas on a regular basis knows he never gives up on a shot, and often finds himself in position to make save that most goalies cannot make. The only reason some fans seem to be surprised by it is the fact that Thomas had struggled in the postseason prior to this season. Things have changed now, however.
“You know, it was just a reaction and desperation and, I’ll admit, I got a little bit lucky there,” Thomas said.
If Thomas keeps playing the way he has for most of this postseason, it will be the Lightning who needs the luck.
Others step it up
Though he was the clear No. 1 star of the game, Thomas was not the only Boston player who had a hand in the win.
Nathan Horton battled back from a horrible first half of the game (two bad penalties) to tie the game on his one-timer off a great feed from Milan Lucic, who also played his best game of the series (not difficult seeing he has been awful).
Zdeno Chara also played a strong game, using his body and long reach to his advantage numerous times, including to help set up the eventual game-winning goal. He pinched up and used his strength and reach to poke the puck to Patrice Bergeron, who then fired a perfect pass on the tape of Brad Marchand, who tapped the puck past Mike Smith to give Boston the lead with 4:04 to play in the second.
Boston’s penalty killing units were also tremendous, killing off four Tampa Bay penalties (a total of 7:32 of total penalty time) – all of which came in the first 22 minutes of the game, a time during which the Lightning were in complete control.
Dennis Seidenberg was tremendous on the PK, logging 5:09 of short-handed time (and a team-leading 29:11 for the game). Chara and Peverley also logged over three minutes each on the PK, while Chris Kelly (2:54), Andrew McQuaid (2:45), Marchand (2:41), Bergeron (2:38) and Andrew Ference (2:19) also played significant minutes on the PK.
As nice as it was to see a win and to see Thomas play so well, the fact is Boston will need to play better on Wednesday if it wants to close out the season.
“I mean I don’t need to say it, everybody else says it — (the fourth win) is the toughest one to get, right?” Horton said after the game. “We’re going to have to work even harder because we’re going into their building and they’re going to be all excited, and just need to play smart and work hard, and play a good, solid road game.”
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