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THERE WERE NO GHOSTS OF POSTSEASONS PAST LEFT TO HAUNT them. Those had been laid to rest with victories over Montreal, the Bruins' traditional rival, and Philadelphia, the team that humiliatingly bounced them out of the playoffs a year ago. But a lack of history between the Bruins and the Lightning did not shortchange the drama. Through Game 6 the series seesawed, with Tampa Bay winning the opener in Boston, the Bruins taking the next two, then the teams alternating victories. Over those six matches the Lightning had scored 21 goals, the Bruins 20. The series was now down to a single game, at TD Garden. And that game came down to a single play.
Midway through the third period, with no score, Boston center David Krejci skated through a seam in Tampa Bay's defense and threaded a pass onto the tape of Nathan Horton's stick. The ensuing tip-in past Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson cut the tension at the Garden, ignited the crowd and propelled the Bruins to their first Cup finals in 21 years.
"That was as close to a perfect Game 7 as you are going to get," said Boston goalie Tim Thomas after making 24 saves for his second shutout of the series.
That assessment was ironic, given that until then the series had turned on imperfections, as each team exploited the other's errors. The Bruins' sloppy first period in Game 1 led to three quick goals for Tampa Bay in a 5--2 win; a missed assignment by the Lightning in Game 3 permitted Boston to temporarily take control of the series.
"This is a game of mistakes," Krejci says. "Against Tampa, when they made a mistake, I wanted to make it count." The 25-year-old center from the Czech Republic did just that, producing five goals and seven points in the series, including a hat trick, in Boston's 5--4 loss in Game 6.
"He's one of those big-time players, and he knew if we were going to go to the next round, he was going to have to step up and carry us through," rookie Brad Marchand said of Krejci, who tied for the Bruins' lead in points this season. "[On the series-winning goal] he made the play with that pass. Horton's had a lot of big goals, but a lot of them wouldn't happen without Krejci."
Krejci's speed and playmaking skills vexed the Lightning, whose ballyhooed 1-3-1 fore-checking scheme—which had befuddled Pittsburgh and Washington during Tampa Bay upsets in the first two rounds—couldn't consistently contain the Bruins' attack.
Even more impressive than solving the Lightning's defensive puzzle was Boston's ability to crack the all-but-impregnable Roloson. Through two rounds the 41-year-old goalie led the league with a .941 save percentage and 2.01 GAA. Krejci and rookie Tyler Seguin (who scored three goals in his first two playoff games) seemed to break Roloson's spell. But his sorcery returned in a heroic finale, in which he made 37 saves.
In the end, though, Roloson could not contend with "perfection." When it mattered most, that was exactly what the Bruins achieved.