The Tampa Bay Lightning’s improbable run through the playoffs ended one game short of the Stanley Cup Final as they fell 1-0 to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Nathan Horton scored the only goal of the game in the third period and Tim Thomas pitched his second shutout of this series to send the Bruins to the finals for the first time since 1990.
The Lightning didn’t seem to have the energy or the manpower to play their normal full-on offensive game. With Sean Bergenheim out with a groin injury, and Steven Stamkos playing at less than full strength after getting a slap shot to the face in the second period, they had to conserve their energy and try to keep the game close as long as they could. That put a lot of pressure on Dwayne Roloson to keep Boston off the board, and he turned in a marvelous effort with 37 saves.
But the one shot he couldn’t stop is the one that sent the Lightning home. Andrew Ference got the puck to David Krejci in the offensive zone. Krejci drove towards the left corner as Horton crashed the net, and Krejci’s centering pass went past Eric Brewer and right to Horton, who tapped it into an open net while Mattias Ohlund tried in vain to catch up.
After the Bruins scored at the 13:21 mark, the Lightning were forced to hit the switch and go all-out in an attempt to tie the game. While they finally generated some offense in the last six and a half minutes, Boston continued playing an outstanding defensive game, sweeping the net of any dangerous rebounds or close-range scoring chances. The Lightning pulled Roloson with a minute left for a sixth attacker, but by then they had punched themselves out and were never really able to get set up for a good chance to send the game to overtime.
It’s a disappointing loss for Lightning fans, but in retrospect this team accomplished so much more than anyone expected it would back in October. Simply making the playoffs was the benchmark everyone looked at before the season began — playing a hockey game on May 27 wasn’t even considered. What’s more, these 18 playoff games are invaluable for young players like Victor Hedman, Stamkos, Steve Downie, Teddy Purcell, and others that the team will continue to build around.
Maybe the biggest disappointment is that there won’t be a banner to hang in the rafters of the St. Pete Times Forum on opening night next season. But as GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher work to improve on the unqualified success of the 2010-11 season, those shouldn’t be far behind.
Make sure to follow the Lightning’s summer activities, including the NHL Entry Draft and free agency, by reading Raw Charge, SB Nation’s Lightning blog.