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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Can I please trademark "It's never easy with the Boston Bruins"?

Before the Eastern Conference finals started between the Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning a few weeks back, I felt that either way the series was going the distance (seven games).

Still I take no joy in knowing that I was right since the B's should have ended this series already. Tampa Bay won 5-4 at the St. Pete Times Forum last night to tie it up at 3 and send the teams back to the TD Garden tomorrow night for Game 7 and a shot in the Stanley Cup finals against the Vancouver Canucks (starting next Wednesday).

Last night's outcome couldn't be more simply defined: Tampa Bay's power play was 3 of 4 while Boston was 1 of 5. The gamesmanship from Lightning head coach Guy Boucher before Game 6 is irrelevant since the B's had more opportunities and also earned the first three power plays of the game so end of discussion.

I would love to dump on the Bruins for losing since it might make me feel temporarily better but they don't deserve it. They actually showed a ton of heart (rare for them) as they battled back from a 5-3 deficit in the third period and essentially ran out of time as Tampa Bay switched roles with Boston and hung on for dear life.

The loss wasted a hat trick by David Krejci along with a big boy game by his linemates Milan Lucic (1 goal, 1 assist) and Nathan Horton (2 assists). Unfortunately, the Lightning received similar primetime performances from Martin St. Louis (2 goals, 1 assist), Steven Stamkos (1 goal, 2 assists) and Vincent Lecavalier (2 assists).

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (21 saves) continued his trick or treat series with another rough outing. Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson (16 saves) didn't do much and looked extremely shaky as well but hey, he came out on top.

Besides the power play struggles for Boston, which everyone in New England could point out (including my dog and cat at this point), the much more unreported nightmare has been the Bruins' propensity to give up both early and late goals in periods. Two times last night, Tampa Bay scored with 36 seconds or less into a frame. That's simply unacceptable at any time, especially now with so much at stake.

Teddy Purcell made it 1-0 Tampa Bay 36 seconds into Game 6, scoring his fifth of the playoffs assisted by Lecavalier. Before Bruins fans could freak out too much, Lucic had scored his third of the playoffs (at 7:09 from Horton and Johnny Boychuk) and Krejci potted his eighth of the playoffs (at 16:30 off a nice feed from Daniel Paille of all people).

All the effort and hard work in the first was quickly wiped out in the second as the Lightning got a pair of power play goals. St. Louis tied it up at 7:55 (from Lecavalier and Stamkos) and Purcell scored his second at 13:35 (from Steve Downie and Brett Clark).

Boston always seems to play better from behind so a one-goal deficit wasn't the end of the world, particularly since they were on the road (where they're more mentally tough for some unknown reason).

Stamkos scored (his sixth of the postseason, from Eric Brewer and St. Louis) another power play goal, 34 seconds into the third and that seemed like game over.

Krejci wouldn't let the B's go down so quietly as he cut it to 4-3 at 9:46 on the power play (!). Horton and Tomas Kaberle had the assists.

Before you could even get too excited though, Boston made sure to punch you in the gut one more time as St. Louis scored the game-winner 29 seconds later. Downie and Stamkos assisted on a play that was a complete fail by so many Bruins. Boychuk pinched in offensive zone and got caught up ice, Thomas over committed and came out too far and Ference didn't cut off the cross ice feed. Yuck.

Boucher was still in a gift giving mood and he let Krejci get his hat trick (Boston's first in the playoffs since Cam Neely in 1991) at 13:28 from Lucic and Kaberle. However, the Bruins couldn't find the tying goal and are forced to play one more deciding game.

I don't care if you have tickets to Game 7, no sane Bruins fan (an oxymoron) wanted it to happen. Boston survived Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round but in the last three seasons they've departed the playoffs with brutal Game 7 losses. The last two were particularly unforgivable since they were on home ice.

Tomorrow night will answer many questions regarding head coach Claude Julien's legacy along with the leaders of the team: Thomas, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron to name a few. If the Bruins lose, it's time to shake things up since this group will have maxed out and they won't go any further with a coach as stubborn and simple-minded as Julien.

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