By Dan Rubin
It was a game that felt like a two-for-one.
In the first game, the Boston Bruins dominated the Tampa Bay Lightning, chasing goalie Dwayne Roloson from his crease as they outpointed the hosts with a three-goal, lightning-strike (no pun intended) lead.
Then came the denouement. Changing goalies to Michael Smith and Tampa Bay stormed back. They took Game 4 on home ice by a 5-3 count, evening the series at two games apiece in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Finals. The series now shifts back to Boston for a best of three for the Prince of Wales Trophy.
Patrice Bergeron scored twice in the first period as Boston jumped out to an early lead. Michael Ryder added another as his stellar playoffs continued, and the Bruins threatened to end the game before it really got started. Bergeron got his first strike unassisted in the 12th minute before Ryder added his a few minutes later. Less than a minute after Ryder, Bergeron pushed a soft shot by Roloson to give the Bruins command of the game.
But after that, the Bruins seemingly started skating in quicksand. The kicker came after the final buzzer of the period, as Rich Peverley dropped the gloves with Tampa Bay’s Marc-Andre Bergeron. In the ensuing scrum, Zdeno Chara got caught up with instigator Steve Downie. Downie and Bergeron put up enough of a fight to give Tampa Bay energy into the locker room, which they capitalized on in the second period.
With their backs to the wall, the Tampa offense did what it’s done so many times in the past – scored fast goals to put a team on its heels. Teddy Purcell notched his first in the seventh minute of the frame, adding a second less than a minute later. The first goal was relatively soft to get by Tim Thomas, and Thomas laughed it off in light of the multi-goal lead. But the second goal quieted his smile when the Lightning faithful roared their approval of what was developing. And two minutes after Purcell’s second tally, Sean Bergenheim tied the game off a feed from Dom Moore.
Bruins killer Simon Gagne announced his arrival into the fourth game when he scored the game-winner in the third period. Martin St. Louis would add an empty-netter, as Tampa Bay made this a whole new series while sending it back to the TD Garden.
The Bruins had plenty to be happy about in earning a split in Tampa Bay. On paper, it allowed them to regain home-ice advantage in a series where the Boston faithful have been louder than in recent memory. But the two Boston losses were punctuated by bad skating and a lack of effort down the stretch. The Lightning’s ability to score quick goals seemingly deflated the Bruins in both Games 1 and 4, and it caused Boston to work slow and heavy as opposed to fast and fleet. It’s not necessarily true that the Lightning have truly beaten Boston; they’ve done enough of the little things to take the wind out of the Black and Gold sails.
It remains to be seen if head coach Guy Boucher will go with Roloson to start Game 5. Roloson has been chased from the previous two games, a fate endured by Brian Boucher in the Bruins’ series with Philadelphia. But where Peter Laviolette refused to bench Boucher, the Tampa edition might not stick with Roloson after two solid performances turned in by Smith. The Tampa netminder turned back 13 Bruins shots, as Boston failed to notch a goal after the first period output.
As for Boston, it’s back to the drawing board. They’ve proven they can beat this Lightning team, but at the same time, they’ve proven they are just as beatable. A trip home to the Original Six market might prove enough of a shot in the arm for a pivotal Game 5. The winner of that game moves within one game of the Prince of Wales Trophy and a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Game 5 is slated for Monday night at 8 PM.