The 2011 NHL playoff schedule is rapidly approaching its final stage. In a matter of days, the Stanley Cup finals could be set at last after weeks of intense playoff action. After Monday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, two teams are now a win away from playing for the Cup. Vancouver was the first team after Sunday, and either Boston or Tampa Bay would be the second after Game 5.
By all accounts, the Lightning should have gone up by 3-2, but the Bruins are now in that position instead. After stealing Game 5 with a 3-1 victory, according to the Associated Press, Boston is now on the brink of stealing the entire series, unless Tampa Bay has another rally left.
The Lightning stole Game 4 by scoring five straight goals, and seemed to carry the momentum into Game 5, with an opening minute goal from Simon Gagne. Tampa Bay kept the pressure on Tim Thomas throughout the period, while Boston could only get four shots on new Lightning starter Mike Smith.
But despite his intense struggles through most of the series, Thomas shut Tampa Bay down, keeping the game at 1-0. The Bruins offense then managed to wake up in the second, with a tying goal from Nathan Horton and a go-ahead strike from Brad Marchand.
Suddenly down 2-1, the Lightning turned the pressure back up in the third period. In fact, Steve Downie seemed to have an open net at one point, until Thomas made a diving stick save to preserve the lead. After that, Boston finally clamped down and clinched the win on an empty net tally by Rich Peverly.
Much of this year’s postseason has been defined by sudden momentum swings, like in the two 3-0 comebacks out West. The Bruins-Lightning series hasn’t gone back and forth to that extreme, but it has been pretty close. After Tampa Bay took momentum in Game 1 only to lose it in Games 2 and 3 and suddenly take it back in Game 4, it is now nearing disaster after a disheartening Game 5.
Despite out-shooting the Bruins by 34-19, and having the lead very early, the Lightning was still denied. Giving Smith the start instead of Dwayne Roloson didn’t cost Tampa Bay, yet Thomas’ play did. No one has been more up-and-down in this series than Thomas, as he gave up 14 combined goals in Games 1, 2 and 4, but has completely shut the Lightning down in Games 3 and 5.
Tampa Bay started its playoff journey with a stunning 3-1 comeback over Pittsburgh, and now it needs to start another rally. Yet if the hot Thomas shows up in Game 6 Wednesday, Eastern Conference play will likely be over, and Boston will return to the finals after a two-decade wait.
NHL.com- “2011 Conference Finals Schedule”
Yahoo Sports- “Bruins beat Lightning 3-1 to take 3-2 lead in East”
YouTube- “Tim Thomas- Save of the year- NHL playoffs 2011”