They've been there before, though, as they rallied to come back from a 3-1 series deficit against Pittsburgh in the first round of these playoffs. For the Bruins to knock the Lightning out in Game 6 on Wednesday, it's going to take a complete effort.
To help get us all ready for Game 6, we asked Paul Kennedy of FoxSportsFlorida.com some questions about what we can expect.
NESN.com: Is it safe to assume that Mike Smith will start Game 6 in Tampa?
Paul Kennedy: You betcha, but I must be honest: "Scoop" Kennedy never saw this coming. More than shocked, I say, that Guy Boucher would place Mike Smith in goal — in Boston — for his first career playoff start. He of 61 minutes of postseason experience, all in relief, against the Bruins. That Guy would have the guts to sit Dwayne Roloson — the leading on-ice figure in Tampa Bay's turnaround and this improbable run to the Eastern Conference final — indicates the degree of Boucher's strong conviction that Smith would be the sharper of the two come Monday. Clearly, the conservative path would have seen Roloson once again between the pipes Once again, Boucher defied convention.
It is with a firm grasp of the obvious that I suggest Smith played well and — just as importantly — his Lightning teammates skated with tremendous jump in front of him. Simon Gagne struck for the opening tally just 69 seconds in. The Bolts so bottled the B's that Boston owned two shots on goal over the first 15 minutes. Matthias Ohlund about knocked Brad Marchand into tomorrow. This was playoff hockey in its highest form, yet a game that will be forever remembered for the play of the goalie at the other end of the ice. Ages hence — about a billion years from now — hockey fans still will be amazed by Tim Thomas' diving stick save on Steve Downie that propelled the B's to within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Word has it Tampa Bay's head coach, his decision made, tipped his hand to neither Smitty nor to Rolly — much less inquiring minds like us — until the Bolts' game-day lunch. Considering that just five months ago, Smith was toiling in goal at AHL Norfolk, it was stunning to see No. 41 lead the Lightning onto to the ice in Boston. To Mike's great credit on this, in the biggest night of his hockey life, Smith did himself proud. Although he didn't face a flood of shots, he was more than solid. And moments after Thomas' ballyhooed save in the third that preserved a 2-1 Bruin lead, war horse Zdeno Chara came galloping toward Smith and fired. Mike made a sensational lefty glove save on that zinger.
Finally, I found it interesting that Boucher cited the example of Vancouver's Roberto Luongo sitting against Chicago a series ago as a factor in his decision. Luongo, refreshed, returned to success. Perhaps the bigger question for Boucher will come on Friday should Smith prevail in Game 6. Who to start in Game 7 for the right to march on?
Update (6:23 p.m. ET on May 24): Guy Boucher said Tuesday that Dwayne Roloson will start Game 6.
NESN.com: The Bruins were a mess in the first period, as the Lightning were able to force plenty of turnovers in the neutral zone. Simply put, what changed, especially in that second period?
PK: The wisecracks were coming. "If the Bruins are only going to get five shots in 25 minutes, do you really need a goalie at all?" Suddenly — kapow! Nathan Horton's one-timer ended that foolishness, tying the game and swinging the momentum in Boston's favor. The Bruins endured a 12-minute first-period stretch without a shot on goal, and managed only a pair of shots much of the opening frame. But they started to apply pressure at the close of the first, and it may have coincided with Sean Bergenheim's departure. The Lightning spark plug, one of the Bolts' fastest skaters boasting a team-high nine playoff goals, suffered an undisclosed "lower-body injury" on his sixth shift and never returned. He was replaced for the most part by talented Norfolk call-up Blair Jones, but that disrupted the forward roation and specifically the Bergenheim-Downie-Dominic Moore trio that had inflicted damage through all three playoff rounds.
Horton had already served two minors, both for interference prior to his goal, yet Tampa Bay was unable to take advantage of three first-period power plays and a fourth that carried over into the start of the second. And during an early four-on-four stretch, Ohlund received a hooking minor that forced the Bolts to kill a four-on-three. They did, but Boston now had momentum. And, after registering only four shots at Smith the entire first period, here came the seventh in the second — at 15:56 — Marchand, shaking off Ohlund's clean, tough, check earlier, to score what proved to the be the winning goal.
Tampa Bay had scored first, dominated the shot clock, Smith was solid in goal — and they still trailed after two. Boston had continued to grind, and it paid off.
NESN.com: The Lightning got a quick goal just 1:09 into the game, and that was it for them. Was that the Bruins' doing or was it something that the Lightning didn't do that led to a poor offensive showing?
PK: Tim Thomas. Next question.
Name a goaltender in the Hockey Hall of Fame who would fare well against a two-on-one attack by Simon Gagne and Steven Stamkos? Defenseman Johnny Boychuk braved the assault in front of Thomas and got five-holed for his efforts on Gagne's goal. Tampa Bay's capacity to counter off mistakes and unleash its speed produces goals like this, either early or in uncommon bursts. But, when Boston plays positional defensive hockey and boxes in front of Thomas, it's difficult to find passing lanes and clear shots.
Still, the guy in goal was wicked awesome. After being trampled in that first cavalry charge, Thomas stoned 33 consecutive shots on goal. From the point, the slot, the crease — rockets and rebounds high and low. How about the time Marty St. Louis actually got behind Tim — squeezing between Thomas' backside and the pipes with everyone in the blue ice — and was reaching over him for the tumbling puck? It didn't go in. Nothing did.
At the game's final horn, the last Lightning player to leave the bench was Steve Downie — a solitary figure, looking upon the celebrating B's and recalling what might have been if Thomas had been but an inch late.
NESN.com: Who is one player the Lightning need to step up and have his best game of the series to avoid elimination in Game 6?
PK: Let's respond in this fashion Mike Smith, say hello to David Ortiz. You gotta be Big Papi. At your best when it matters most.
Mike will be starting a second consecutive NHL game for the first time since mid-December when he posted back-to-back wins over Atlanta/Winnipeg and Buffalo. Boston now benefits from Game 5's up-close, in-person look. The Bruins have ample video and firsthand experience from which to analyze. The B's will be better prepared, and Smitty must meet the challenge.
Offensively, Tampa Bay is generating a more than acceptable number of shots. The 34 unloaded toward Thomas in Game 5 was consistent with previous opportunities that have seen the Bolts total five goals in each of three games in this series, including five unanswered just last Ssaturday. Interesting to note that the game's most prolific scorer over the past two seasons, Steven Stamkos, owns just one goal in this entire avalanche. He is due. Overdue.
It would certainly aid the Lightning's cause for Bergenheim to return. Recall, he scored all of 14 goals in the regular season before exploding for nine in this playoff run. Among players to have finished the regular season with 15 or less, the all-time NHL record for postseason scoring is 10 — set in 2008 by Philadelphia's R.J. Umberger. Only the Flyers' Keith Primeau ('04) and Detroit's Danny Cleary ('09) matched Bergenheim. And there is chemistry in his Moore-Downie linemates.
The trio combines to form a third line that plays like a top line and causes Claude Julien matchup problems.
NESN.com: How do the Lightning get the series shipped back up to Boston for a Game 7?
PK: Let history repeat itself. Not once, but twice.
First, when Tampa Bay — a proud member of the NHL's Original Thirty — captured the Stanley Cup in 2004, the Lightning found themselves headed into Game 6 at Calgary trailing in the series 3-2. A Flames win and the Cup was returning to Canada.The Sea of Red — the Calgary faithful — were out in force throughout the city and the Saddle Dome. Improbably, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier won that Game 6, with Marty's double-overtime goal sending the series back to the Bay, where the Bolts prevailed and held one whale of a championship parade.
Throughout the first overtime that night, I stood in the shadows with affable commissioner Gary Bettman, who was poised to present the Flames with the Cup should they score. There too, on top of the Stanley Cup case, rested the Conn Smythe Trophy, which was to be awarded to Calgary's Jarome Iginla as the postseason MVP. Thirty seconds into the second OT, St. Louis fired home a rebound. When I looked back after glancing at the ice, the commissioner and the Cup — and the Conn Smythe — were gone, already en route to Tampa.
It was there that commissioner Bettman presented the Cup to Dave Andreychuk and the Conn Smythe to Brad Richards.
Second, how fitting that the man who graces the front of the ticket for Wednesday's Game 6 in Tampa would be Simon Gagne. Monday's opening tally was his seventh goal in Simon's last nine games against Boston. That's a history Bruins fans recall, for it included four elimination games against Gagne, then with Philadelphia, just a season ago. When Tampa Bay trailed the Penguins, three games to one, and headed to Pittsburgh, it was Gagne who stood up in the room and stated that the Lightning could win and cited his Boston experience. He led by example and the Lightning marched on.
With three key leaders — St. Louis, Lecavalier, and Gagne — having beaten the odds in the cauldron of playoff pressure, Tampa Bay is confident it can still advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. And it's not just talk.
Thanks again to Paul Kennedy for answering our questions. You can read more from Paul by clicking here. Please check back before every game of the Bruins-Lightning series for more Across Enemy Lines. You also can read NESN.com Bruins reporter Douglas Flynn's contributions to this feature on FOXSportsFlorida.com.