Bruins Vs. Lightning: Nathan Horton, Boston Rebound From Game 6 Frustrations, Advance To Stanley Cup Finals

BOSTON, MA - MAY 27: Nathan Horton #18 of the Boston Bruins scores a third period goal past Dwayne Roloson #35 of the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 27, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

After two and a half scoreless periods, Nathan Horton found the back of the net for the Boston Bruins in Game 7 to send them to the Stanley Cup with a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Not many of the statistics heading into game seven pointed the Boston Bruins' way.

They were 10-10 in game sevens. Tampa Bay was 3-0. Tampa had never lost a series (3-0) in which they won game one. Only two players on the Lightning roster had lost a game seven in their careers, and nobody there had lost more game sevens than they'd won.

But at the end of the day, it was a game seven. And history matters little in a game seven.

Nathan Horton made sure of that when he got to the net ahead of a David Krejci pass and, at 12:27 of the third period, deflected the pass into the net behind Dwayne Roloson. It was the only goal of the game, as Tim Thomas stopped 24 Tampa Bay shots and the Bruins advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1990.

It wasn't a game void of chances, but it was a game that the goaltenders both kept interesting.

Boston, which had been 2-3 when outshooting their opposition heading into the game, outshot Tampa in each period, finishing with a 38-24 SOG edge. It was a mark that was unfamiliar for the Bruins, who won many of their games by getting ahead early and forcing bad-angle shots for their opponents.

It was the first game in the series in which neither team scored in the first period. It was just the second time in the series in which nobody scored in the second. but when it mattered most, Horton - whom the Bruins acquired in a trade with Florida just 11 months ago along with Gregory Campbell - was there.

"They were flatfooted like I said so I just tried to, I had some speed too so I just tried to get to the net, give [Krejci] some space and he gave me a great pass," Horton said of the game-winning play. 

It was a big goal for Horton, whose post-game six frustrations have been well documented. But his struggles continued early in game seven when he twice left the ice, once after a collision that left him limping and again after an issue with the blade of his skate.

On whether he thought he might make it back after the collision, Horton simply said, "Yeah definitely, no doubt about it."

In a way, it was that confidence that's taken Horton and the Bruins this far. Horton's been a big part of the Bruins' postseason success, scoring the game-winning goals in games five and seven against Montreal, and becoming the first player in NHL history to score two game-winning goals in game sevens in one playoffs.

As good as Horton's been, the real story of the game was Tim Thomas, who'd allowed five goals three separate times in the series, but also shut out the electric Tampa offense twice and held them to one goal once more.

"Yeah it is (fitting that Thomas got the shutout)," said Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, who had the secondary assist on the game's only goal. "I mean Timmy has been great for us all along and again, the way he played was great. I thought we did a great job in front of him tonight, to be honest with you. I thought everyone played well."

Ference and the rest of the Boston defense didn't make Thomas face a lot of shots - Dennis Seidenberg alone blocked eight shots - but he stopped all 24 shots that he saw and that was more than enough for the Black and Gold.

"Once they went up one-nothing, they really came back with five guys and it was tough to get anything. We got a few shots, but it was tough to get those rebounds," said Tampa captain Vincent Lecavalier.

Thomas benefited from not having to face the vaunted Tampa Bay power play, which accounted for three of Tampa Bay's goals in game six on Wednesday night. Of course, Boston's heretofore atrocious power play didn't see the ice, either, as the referees didn't raise their arms once all game and let the better team win the game.
It wasn't a series that Boston necessarily deserved to win. Neither was it a series that Tampa Bay deserved to lose. But after six games, with the series tied at three games apiece, the Bruins were evidently the better team when it mattered most.

When all was said and done, history will tell the story of the Bruins getting production from the guys that they needed most: the Horton-Krejci-Milan Lucic line stepped up big; the pairing of Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg was huge; Tim Thomas was the likely Vezina winner he needed to be and the returns of both Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin to the lineup proved to be the spark that Boston needed.

The Bruins haven't been here in 21 years. But everyone in the locker room knows that their work is far from done. They've spent the past eight months re-writing history, and they're ready to do so for two more weeks.

On this night, however, the ending was as happy as it could get. And while nobody in a white sweater was happy to see their season end, there was one member of the Lightning who could take a little solace in his team's loss.

"Obviously, we are good friends and we go way back. I was...just wanted to wish him luck and go win a cup, you know?" said Martin St. Louis of former University of Vermont teammate Tim Thomas. "You deserve to (do) it. Everything he has gone through in his career, he has earned everything. I hope that he wins a Cup."

There are fourteen other teams in the Eastern Conference that also hope Thomas and the Bruins win the Cup. After 100 games, they finally have the chance.

Both the Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks have four games left to win. And they'll be the hardest four to win, for sure. But if the chapters the Black and Gold have written so far this postseason don't end prematurely, there will be a very happy ending on Causeway Street.

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