TAMPA, Fla. – The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to overcome a resurgent Tim Thomas and even up the Eastern Conference finals.
Tampa Bay trails Boston 2-1 heading into Game 4 on Saturday, thanks in part to a strong rebound effort by Thomas. The Bruins’ goalie stopped all 31 shots he faced in a 2-0 victory on Thursday night.
“We need to step up our game another notch,” Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman said.
Thomas, the favourite to win the Vezina Trophy as the top regular-season goalie because of a 2.00 goal-against-average, had given up nine goals through the first two games against the Lightning.
But Thomas and the Boston defence, which allowed an Eastern Conference low 195 goals during the regular season, returned to form.
“He’ll give credit to the people in front of him,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “I think that’s very deserving. But when they had some great opportunities, he was also there to make the big saves. He’s been a great goaltender.”
Thomas was especially strong in Game 3 during a first-period sequence after the Bruins took a 1-0 lead, stopping a number of good scoring chances.
“They came in pretty fast and I was moving when the first shot came, so I made the save,” Thomas said. “But as I was doing it, my momentum carried me toward the corner. And out of the corner of my eye I saw (Vincent) Lecavalier was going to get the rebound. That’s when I did a spin-o-rama. Spun around, got to the centre of the net and was fortunate to get a leg around it.”
The Lightning had 15 shots in the third.
“I thought we played pretty solid,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “We tried to really focus on our position play, being in the right place away from the puck.”
Tampa Bay has the firepower to make a difference, again, in Game 4. The trio of Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis combined for 11 shots Thursday.
“It’s a much tighter game,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “So, you’re looking for those opportunities and things you normally do, but they are harder to come by. It’s not like we’re playing a phantom team and they were just going to let us run around and have our breakaways.”
Boston has played well on the road during the post-season, winning five of six. The Lightning are just 3-3 on home ice.
“It would be nice to go home 3-1,” Bruins right wing Michael Ryder said. “It’s going to take our A-game to do that. We know they’re going to come out even harder.”
The Bruins have failed to score on 19 road power-plays during the post-season, and are 4 for 50 overall.
Tampa Bay can be upbeat, even after dropping two straight to Boston. Pittsburgh went up 3-1 during the conference quarter-finals by winning two in a row over the Lightning, who then swept the final three games.
“It’s a big bear … you don’t want to go down 3-1,” Tampa Bay LW Ryan Malone said with a smile. “Our team has character. We faced adversity all season. Another big challenge. There’s no panic.”
NOTES: Boston C Patrice Bergeron said he was “feeling good” a day after returning from a concussion that kept him out of Games 1 and 2. “He looked like a guy who never missed a game,” Julien said. “That was impressive.” … Tampa Bay D Pavel Kubina, out since the first game of the conference semifinals against Washington when his head went into the glass on a hit, hasn’t resumed skating.