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.

UMass-Lowell junior Smith leaves school, signs with Buffalo

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C.J. Smith, the UMass-Lowell forward that finished eighth in the country in goalscoring (23) this year, has signed a two-year, entry-level deal with the Sabres, the club announced on Thursday.

Smith, 22, is coming off an impressive 51-point junior campaign for the River Hawks, which he punctuated with MVP honors in the Hockey East tournament.

According to the Buffalo News, Smith will get a crack at some NHL action this year and suit up in the Sabres’ final five games of the season.

It’s been a busy 48 hours of departures for UMass-Lowell. Walter Brown Award winner Joseph Gambardella, a senior that served as alternate captain this year, inked with Edmonton yesterday while defenseman Michael Kapla signed with the Devils.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins continue push for playoff spot against Stars

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Boston Bruins host the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

With six games to go, the Bruins are in a decent spot when it comes to making the playoffs, but they’re far from a lock.

They currently sit three points ahead of Tampa Bay in the chase for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but the Bolts have a game in hand.

Boston got off to a great start when they named Bruce Cassidy as Claude Julien’s replacement. They cooled off considerably (they lost four in a row) in the last couple of weeks. Now, they head into tonight’s action having won each of their last two games.

“I don’t have the reason why it wasn’t there for maybe a three-game stretch there,” said David Backes, per the Boston Globe. “But the fact that it’s back, and we’ve got our legs under us and we found that winning way again . . . hopefully, lesson learned.”

The good news for them, is that they can still move up the standings too. The Bruins are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic Division. Finishing in the second Wild Card spot means likely playing Washington in the first round, while finishing third in the Atlantic would mean possibly playing Ottawa.

After tonight’s game against the Stars, the Bruins will play four of their last five games (Florida, Tampa, Ottawa, Washington) at the TD Garden. Their only road game will be in Chicago. So they’ll face some pretty good teams, but at least they’ll do so on home ice.

Last week, the Stars were officially eliminated from the playoff picture, which wasn’t exactly surprising.

Dallas was hit hard by the injury bug, as they lost Mattias Janmark, Ales Hemsky early on, while Valeri Nichushkin bolted for the KHL.

So with the playoffs out of sight and out of mind, the Stars can focus on getting their young players some more ice time over the last two weeks of the regular season.

Players like Julius Honka, Curtis McKenzie, Remi Elie and Jason Dickinson should all get an extended look.

“We’re in a place where we need them to play important roles,” coach Lindy Ruff said of his young players, per the Dallas Morning News. “and we need them to play well.

“We need to finish hard and play hard. I think we’re all focused on being professional and giving our best effort.”

 We’ll find out if they can play spoiler in Boston tonight.

PHT Morning Skate: Zdeno Chara shot catches emergency goalie in a sensitive spot

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–Sean McIndoe looks at five players who became the unlikeliest first 50-goal scorers in their franchise’s history. McIndoe chose Rick MacLeish (Flyers), Rick Vaive (Maple Leafs), Vic Hadfield (Rangers), Guy Chouinard (Flames) and Mickey Redmond (Red Wings). (The Hockey News)

–A lot of people think hockey players are the toughest athletes, but Islanders forward Anders Lee is here to tell you that they aren’t tough at all. In his story for The Players’ Tribune, Lee writes about a tough, young friend, who is battling cancer. “In the seven years since he has been diagnosed, he has gone through multiple surgeries. He’s had countless radiation treatments. He’s gone through chemotherapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplants. And he does it all with a smile on his face. So when I hear people refer to me as tough because I play hockey, I think of Fenov and kids like him.” (The Players’ Tribune)

–The Boston Bruins needed an emergency goalie for their practice yesterday, and they settled on Massachusetts state trooper Kevin Segee. Surely, it was the experience of a lifetime for him, but it didn’t come without pain. Segee was clearly shaken up after getting a Zdeno Chara in the…well, you know. (CSN New England)

–Blackhawks forwards Artemi Panarin, Patrick Kane and Tanner Kero each had multi-point games in Wednesday’s 5-1 thumping of the Pittsburgh Penguins. You can watch the highlights from the game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–What was the world like the last time the Detroit Red Wings missed the playoffs? Thanks to Sports Illustrated, we don’t have to wonder. In 1990, J.K. Rowling had just started writing the Harry Potter series, Donald Trump walked out of an interview with CNN because they were asking tough questions about his casino, the first known webpage was written and much, much more. (Sports Illustrated)

–Edmonton Oilers players and their significant others came together to make 400-500 bowls of homemade soup for charity. It’s pretty cool to see most of the team be involved in such a nice event, even though the onion chopping station gave some of the guys a hard time. (Edmonton Oilers on Twitter)

–Sportsnet has assembled the top hits of the week for your viewing pleasure. Hits from that Toronto, Columbus game made the video a couple of times:

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.