Tim Thomas helps Boston steal a 3-1 Game 5 win, Bruins gain 3-2 series lead

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It’s amazing that someone would claim that the 2011 playoffs lack dominant goaltending performances when you consider the astounding work by Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas. Whether he wins a Stanley Cup this year or not, Thomas is putting together one of the best combined regular season and playoff runs we’ve seen in a long time.*

For most of this series, the Tampa Bay Lightning carried the play but Thomas regularly bailed his Boston Bruins out. Tonight’s Game 5 might be the best example of how Thomas is carrying his team on his well-traveled back, though.

Boston 3, Tampa Bay 1; Bruins lead series 3-2

After allowing a goal on the first shot he faced (a beautifully executed one-timer from Steven Stamkos to Simon Gagne), Thomas never allowed another puck in his net. He made 33 stops overall, including a desperation stick save that might just be the best save of the 2011 playoffs.

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As you can see from that clip, he wasn’t the only goalie who played well in Game 5. Lightning coach Guy Boucher decided to start Mike Smith instead of Dwayne Roloson, a move that surprised some. Out of context, it might seem like Smith was a weak link for the Lightning since he allowed two goals on 19 shots. The thing is, the two goals he allowed were nearly unstoppable and he was an asset for most of the contest. No doubt about it, Boucher faces a tough decision regarding his Game 6 starter.

Bruins recover from lopsided first period

Tampa Bay out-shot Boston 14-4 in the first period but Thomas only allowed that 1-0 goal. The Bruins scored two goals in the second period, which ended up being all the offense they would need.

Nathan Horton made amends for his two interference penalties by rifling a one-timer through Smith to make it 1-1. Horton has been hot-and-cold in his first career playoff year, but his goals have often been game-changers.

Speaking of game-changers, Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal ended up being a nice team effort. Zdeno Chara made a nice play to keep the puck in the zone, Patrice Bergeron sent an outstanding pass through the Lightning defense and Marchand overpowered Martin St. Louis to score.

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The Lightning sent steady pressure toward Thomas in every period, but the Bruins were able to hold onto that 2-1 second period lead through the rest of the game. Rich Pevereley scored the 3-1 dagger into an empty Tampa Bay net to seal the deal for Boston in the third period. Steve Downie seems to be getting reputation-based penalties in this series, as many questioned the boarding call he received while officials missed Andrew Ference tripping him behind Boston’s net. Downie was seen stewing alone on the Lightning bench after the game concluded.

Outlook for both teams

The Bruins are one win away from their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in 1990. Again, they have one man to thank above all else: Tim Thomas. It’s unclear if they did this by design, but only Thomas came out during the three stars ceremony after the game. As usual, he had something interesting to say in this post-game interview.

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Boston would like to avoid another Game 7 by wrapping this up in Tampa Bay, but they shouldn’t lean so heavily on Thomas on Wednesday. The Bolts are undefeated in elimination games, so this series probably won’t get an easier for the Bruins.

The Lightning put 34 shots on Thomas, frequently catching the Bruins flat-footed with their superior overall speed. One area of concern is the health of unexpected hero Sean Bergenheim, who didn’t return after suffering a first period groin injury.

After winning games in which they were regularly out-shot thanks to outstanding goaltending and timely offense during the first two rounds, The Lightning are getting a taste of their own medicine in the Eastern Conference finals. You cannot fault their effort so far, but that will be little solace if they fall two wins short of the championship round.

* – My bet is that Thomas will win the Vezina Trophy for the 2010-11 season. The last goalie who followed up a Vezina-winning regular season with a comparably outstanding postseason was Martin Brodeur, who won a Stanley Cup after earning the Vezina during the 2002-03 season.

Report: Finnish goalie Sateri eyeing NHL after strong showing at Worlds

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Harri Sateri, the former Sharks prospect that’s spent the last three years in the KHL, is reportedly looking to come back to North America.

Per Finnish news outlet Iltalheti, Sateri shot down an extension with his current club, Vityaz Podolsk, to try and land an NHL gig.

The 27-year-old’s decision comes after a pretty solid showing with his native Finland at the World Hockey Championship. There, Sateri split time with Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo, finishing with a .915 save percentage and 2.26 GAA. He posted a 26-save shutout in a surprising quarterfinal win over the U.S.

Sateri’s been good in Russia as well. Last season, he finished with a .929 save percentage and 2.50 GAA in 42 games.

It’ll be interesting to see if he can find a gig this summer. Sateri was originally San Jose’s fourth-round pick (106th overall) at the 2008 draft, but spent all four of his years in North America with the club’s AHL affiliate.

In his final season, he lost out on the gig as Antti Niemi’s backup to Alex Stalock in the preseason.

Kelly or Wingels will replace White for Senators in Game 7

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Either Chris Kelly or Tommy Wingels will replace Colin White for the Ottawa Senators tonight.

White, 20, made his NHL playoff debut in Game 6, but he only took seven shifts and logged 2:39 of ice time.

Clearly, head coach Guy Boucher didn’t trust the rookie in such a big game.

Tonight in Pittsburgh, it’s an even bigger game. Win and it’s off to the Stanley Cup Final. Lose and that’s it for the season.

Kelly, 36, and Wingels, 29, have each played their share of big games. Kelly went to a Cup final with the Sens in 2007, and he went to a couple more with the Bruins. Wingels played for the Cup last year with the Sharks.

“They both have lived seven games, and they both have won seven games,” said Boucher. “So those are the two guys we need to have out there.”

Kelly has only played once this postseason, all the way back in the first round against Boston. But with Derick Brassard seemingly unable to take faceoffs, Kelly may draw in because he’s a center.

“It will all depend if it’s a center or winger I’m going to need,” said Boucher.

Related: Schultz and Hornqvist will be game-time decisions; Sheary may play

Carolina has the ‘open for business sign out there’

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Ron Francis is ready to make more deals.

Heading into the offseason, Francis had 11 draft picks at this June’s draft, and already used one — a third-rounder — to acquire Scott Darling from Chicago.

Now, the Hurricanes GM is prepared to use more in the hopes of adding to the roster.

“We’ve got the open for business sign out there,” Francis said Wednesday, per the News & Observer. “We’re in a unique situation with the amount of picks we have and the amount of prospects we have. It’ll be interesting.

“Really what it comes down to is what teams want: Do they want a player back for the asset they don’t have to protect or are they willing to take some picks and prospects?”

It’s pretty obvious the goal for Francis and head coach Bill Peters is to get the ‘Canes back into the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The team has shown steady improvement over the last three years — going from 30 to 35 to 36 wins — and had a nice late push before ultimately falling short this season.

“I think we have specific needs, very specific needs,” Peters said at Carolina’s end-of-year media availability. “So as a coach I’m going to give very specific names.”

It sounds like more than just picks could be in play.

The News & Observer said the ‘Canes “aren’t agonizing” over the expansion draft, as the team has a pretty good idea of who’ll be exposed. So it could be a case of identifying the players that will remain, and seeing what assets they may fetch in return.

There’s been speculation that the Hurricanes might be willing to move Noah Hanifin. Though it might seem strange to dangle a gifted 20-year-old d-man with loads of potential, Carolina has good depth on the blueline with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. It’s expected that prospects Roland McKeown and Haydn Fleury will push for NHL jobs next year, and there’s still ’16 first-rounder Jake Bean on the horizon.

Francis also has another asset at his disposal — cap space.

It’s what allowed the ‘Canes to snag Teuvo Teravainen from Chicago for the price of taking on Bryan Bickell‘s contract. Another similar move could very well be in the cards, especially when the NHL releases next year’s cap ceiling figure.

Report: ‘All signs point’ to contract extension for Ducks’ Fowler

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“All signs point toward” a contract extension for Anaheim Ducks defenseman Cam Fowler, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun.

LeBrun reported this morning that talks between the Ducks and the 25-year-old defenseman are expected to resume next week. Talks so far have been “positive,” said LeBrun.

It won’t be cheap to re-sign Fowler, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. He’s coming off a 39-point season for the Ducks, and he logged almost 25 minutes per game.

If Fowler does agree to re-sign, he’ll obviously be protected in the expansion draft, along with Hampus Lindholm. Assuming the Ducks only protect three defensemen, that would only leave one spot to protect Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson, or Kevin Bieksa — and the latter has a no-movement clause, which for now demands he be protected.

For that reason, Bieksa will likely be asked to waive his NMC. It’s also possible he could be bought out.

Anaheim does have the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. However, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

Related: Big decisions looming for Ducks