The Boston Bruins hold a goaltending advantage on most, if not all, teams in the league this season thanks to Tim Thomas, but when Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher decided to go with Mike Smith in net for Game Five, there was an even greater chance that Boston's goaltending could prove to be the difference.
While Smith hadn't allowed a goal in 60:51 in two relief appearances in this series, he also had just five starts for the Lightning in the previous five months, so the decision to start him in place of Dwayne Roloson was risky.
That's not to say that Smith was a liability for Tampa Bay -- he couldn't be faulted on Boston's goals -- but Thomas was again outstanding for Boston and that gave the Bruins the win in game in which they were outshot 34-19.
The only time this season that Boston was held under 20 shots on goal, prior to Game Five, was November 5, 2010, a 5-3 loss at Washington.
Tampa Bay controlled play early, outshooting the Bruins 14-4 in the first period, but only emerged with a 1-0 lead on a goal from Simon Gagne.
Nathan Horton tied it up, with his seventh goal of the playoffs, helping to make up for two penalties that he had taken in a 2:58 span late in the first and early in the second period. Horton is tied for the Bruins' playoff lead with seven goals and ranks second on the team with 33 penalty minutes.
As Horton can attest, Boston's penalty killing has been effective lately, killing off four power plays in Game Five and leaving Tampa Bay 0-for-9 with the man advantage in the last three games.
Boston agitator Brad Marchand scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, his first point of the series, converting a superb setup from Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron's been a real factor, leading Bruins forwards in ice time and putting up three points and a plus-3 rating in two games since returning to the lineup.
Lightning playoff hero Sean Bergenheim was limited to just 4:19 of playing time due to injury, with a suggestion from Lightning beat reporter Eric Erlendsson post-game that it could be a groin injury. Naturally, losing the leading goal-scorer of the playoffs could be deemed significant for a team that had trouble solving Thomas.
Thomas' brilliance was underscored by save midway through the third period on Steve Downie, in which Thomas lunged across the crease and, with the paddle of his stick blocked Downie's rebound attempt on what appeared to be an open net.
Boston is now one game away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, riding a goaltender that has been hot for nearly the entire season. Tampa Bay returns home, with uncertainty between the pipes and a sense of desperation now that their backs are against the wall.
They responded well when facing elimination against Pittsburgh in Round One, but is it asking too much for the Lightning to rally again?