BOSTON — Through the first two periods, Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson was stopping every Bruins shot heading at his direction looking eerily similar to then Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose Theodore in Game 7 of the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was some thought that the Bruins run would fall short and that they would have to wait yet another year for an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
But the Bruins stayed focused and kept peppering Roloson with rubber in the third as they outshot the Lightning 38-24 through 60 minutes.
And on the 35th shot of the game, it was a familiar hero who delivered yet another game-winner: Nathan Horton.
“He certainly has played like a big-game player obviously [with his] overtime goals and winning goals,” Bruins ehad coach Claude Julien said about Horton. “And I think for a guy who hasn’t played in the playoffs for many years, he certainly has kept a lot of energy inside of him and a lot of excitement to go out there and play the way he did.”
After Andrew Ference slid the puck to David Krejci in the neutral zone, the Czech center slid the puck past a couple of Bolts defenders to Horton, who was crashing the net looking for deflection. Horton waited on the doorstep and tipped the puck past Roloson at 12:27 of the third period to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
“I just tried to give him [Krejci] some space because he’s so magical with the puck,” Horton said. “We were coming with so much speed because we had a little more ice. Ference made a great pass to get it up ice and we were able to bang home the puck.”
“It’s about time,” added Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who had four shots on goal. “We had so many opportunities and we were able to finally come through when it mattered the most.”
Behind a strong defensive effort — and a great play by Johnny Boychuk stopping a potential scoring chance on Teddy Purcell — the Bruins withheld Tampa’s storm (no pun intended) for the final seven minutes and change to secure the Game 7 win and their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.
“We thought it was fitting not just for him, but for our team,” Julien said about Horton’s winner. “I think this was probably one of our better games that we’ve played as far as there’s no big mistakes that I saw in the game. I thought it was a well-played Game 7.
“We had energy, we had confidence and we certainly had some chances earlier on. But their goaltender was good for them and kept them in the game.”
His game-winner in Game 5 of the Habs series gave the Bruins a lot of momentum. His game-winner in Game 7 of the same series advanced the Bruins to the second round.
But his game-winner in Game 7 will be one that Bruins fans will remember for quite awhile.
“It’s awesome. What a feeling,” Horton said. “There are 28 other teams that would like to be in our position. And it’s unbelievable that we’re going to the Stanley Cup Finals.”