BOSTON — It wasn't the way most teams would draw up a comeback.
The Bruins had been thoroughly dominated in the first period of Monday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at TD Garden. They had been outshot 14-4 and were being beaten to just about every loose puck and outmuscled for control of the ones they did reach in time.
Only some stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas had kept Boston within striking range, down just 1-0 after 20 minutes. But the Bruins weren't out of the woods yet. They started the second period a man down, with 1:10 left on an interference penalty to Nathan Horton.
They killed that off, then killed another interference minor to Horton at 2:07 of the second. And a funny thing happened as they battled to shut down Tampa Bay's potent power play. Down a man, the Bruins started skating again. They started outworking and outhustling the Lightning. And that momentum carried over when they returned to even strength.
Horton atoned for his undisciplined play when he scored just 17 seconds after coming out of the box for the second time, tying the game at 1-1. Brad Marchand added the go-ahead goal later in the second and the Bruins hung on for a 3-1 win to move within one victory of their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.
"It lifted everyone up," Bruins winger Milan Lucic said of the penalty kill. "I think it lifted the fans up. It was an exciting feeling on the bench again. And after Horty was in the box there for four straight minutes he comes out with a big shift. But your penalty killers, especially like they did tonight, they step up and do the job they did, that's obviously something big and can't be overlooked in tonight's win. And when you reward the penalty killers with answering back and getting yourself back in the game with a goal like that, you start feeling pretty good about yourselves and you start feeling like you have a chance to win and you want to keep moving forward."
It was almost a perfect mirror image of what the Lightning did to Boston in Game 4 in Tampa. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, then opened the second with a power play and had another chance with the man-advantage minutes later. The Lightning killed both penalties and that helped spark them to a rally for a 5-3 win. The similarities certainly weren't lost on the Bruins.
"They did it to us down there in Game 4, killing two off in the second period and kind of getting momentum," Bruins forward Chris Kelly said. "So obviously we did a good job, got those two kills and Horty came out of the box and had a big goal to tie it up. So definitely those kills were huge."
Bruins coach Claude Julien agreed, and praised the work of his penalty killers throughout the night.
"I think they kind of actually did the same thing in our favor that it did in their favor last game," Julien said. "You know, we had those two early power plays in the second period [in Game 4], and we didn't do much. They built momentum off of that. And I know that when Horts came out of that second one there, he scored a big goal for us and got us back in the game. So it did build some momentum. I think our penalty kill did a great job tonight for us, and you know, right now before the series started, the special teams were the big concern. And right now I think in both areas we're pretty even."
They're even thanks to that penalty kill, which shut down all four Lightning power plays on Monday. The Bruins' own power play remained power less, going 0 for 4 as well with just two shots. That made the work of the penalty killers even more vital.
"I think special teams are key," Bruins forward Daniel Paille said. "And obviously when the power play's not working, the penalty kill's got to be even bigger."
Paille is one of Boston's primary penalty killers up front, along with Gregory Campbell, Patrice Bergeron, Rich Peverley, Marchand and Kelly. Kelly and Peverley didn't leave a lot of work for the rest of the others, though, at least not during one first-period penalty kill.
With Andrew Ference in the box for cross-checking, Kelly and Peverley were caught on the ice for the entire two-minute penalty, unable to chance with Tampa set up in the Boston zone. But they dug deep to find that little bit of extra energy to survive that monster shift, successfully killing the penalty and finally clearing the puck.
"It was a little tiring being out there for two minutes," Kelly said. "But you prepare for that all year and kind of put that tiredness in the back of your mind and realize you've got a job to do. Everyone did that and we got the puck out and got a change. Those little victories inside the game are nice."
Those little victories can also add up to one big win.