By Brian Willwerth
Boston Bruins’ fans do not need any proof that Tim Thomas should win the Vezina Trophy.
But for any doubters, may we present Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. And as a result, the Bruins are one win away from the final round.
Thomas made 33 saves, many of them of the spectacular variety, and the Bruins beat the Lightning Monday night at TD Garden, 3-1. Boston now leads the series, 3-2.
The first period was dominated by Tampa Bay. The Lightning struck first just 1:09 into the game when Steven Stamkos and Simon Gagne broke in on a 2-on-1. Gagne finished the odd-man rush by putting one past Tim Thomas to give the Bolts the lead. The Bruins could only muster four shots on goal in the period. The Lightning had 14.
That would be the first – and only – time Tampa Bay would score.
The home team showed some life in the second period. At the 4:24 mark, Milan Lucic set up Nathan Horton, who blasted a one-timer past Mike Smith to tie the game at 1. It was the first playoff goal allowed by Smith, who started in place of Dwayne Roloson. Then with just over four minutes remaining, the Bruins took advantage of a Tampa Bay giveaway in the Lightning end. Patrice Bergeron set up Brad Marchand with a beautiful pass to put Boston on top.
In the third period, Thomas stole the show. The Lightning threw 11 more shots at him, and he stopped them all. He did get a little help. Early in the period, Blair Jones took a nice feed, broke in alone on Thomas, and hit the post. Then midway through the period, Thomas made the save of the game – as he robbed Steve Downie of a sure tying goal. Downie had an empty net, but Thomas managed to block the puck with his stick just in the nick of time.
Rich Peverley’s empty-netter rounded out the scoring, and set off a wild celebration in the stands.
Game 6 is Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum. If the Bruins win, they’ll advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 21 years. If the Lightning are victorious, there’ll be a Game 7 in Boston on Friday night.