TAMPA, Fla. — When the Tampa Bay Lightning are in a pinch, they know where to turn for leadership.
Martin St. Louis delivered inspiring pregame words in the locker room, then took the ice and scored two goals to help his team stay alive in the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-4 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 6 on Wednesday night.
“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” rising young star Steven Stamkos said of St. Louis, a six-time All-Star who is one of three players remaining on the roster from Tampa Bay’s only Stanley Cup championship team from seven years ago.
“He’s the first guy to step up and get the guys going. He’s obviously been through every type of experience and every single type of championship you could win, he’s been there. He’s won individual awards. He’s won the Stanley Cup and he’s always been a big part. He knows what to do and how to react in those situations. He stepped up before the game and said a few words, and just the respect he has from every single guy on the team, we take it to heart. … He’s been our go-to guy, and he was again.”
The Bruins are seeking their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals in 21 years, and the Lightning will try to clinch their first appearance on hockey’s biggest stage since they won their title in 2004.
The Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks await the winner.
“We knew it was going to be a long series. … Comes down to one game. Luckily and fortunately, all our team has been through a Game 7,” St. Louis said. “Some of us have played more, but we’ve had that experience. So we know what to expect. The fourth win is always the toughest one to get and we know both teams will battle hard to get it.”
St. Louis also assisted on a third-period goal that put the Lightning up 4-2. His second goal — and NHL-leading 10th of the playoffs — restored Tampa Bay’s two-goal lead after Boston pulled within 4-3 on one of two goals Krejci scored to keep the Bruins within striking distance in the closing minutes.
Roloson, who didn’t play in Game 5 after being pulled from two of the previous three games because of ineffectiveness, also gave up a pair of first-period goals and finished with 16 saves.
“The fourth win, they don’t give it to you, as we learned once again. Not that we were looking for them to give it to us. It’s just more proof that’s the way it goes,” said Thomas, who stopped 21 shots after a superb performance in Game 5 moved the Bruins within one victory of their first Stanley Cup finals appearance since 1991.
“It all comes down to one game now,” Boston center Patrice Bergeron said. “So it’s about making sure we’re keeping our chins up and heads up and make sure we’re ready for that game.”
Roloson improved to 7-0 in elimination games during his career, including 4-0 this postseason. The Lightningrallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh in the first round, with their 41-year-old goalie shutting out the Penguins in Game 7 on the road.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher gave backup goalie Mike Smith his first career playoff start Monday night, saying he felt Roloson — whose midseason acquisition was one of the keys to Tampa Bay emerging as a contender — needed a “breather” after starting the Lightning’s first 15 postseason games.
Boston coach Claude Julien said his team would need to play its best game of the series to clinch it, and the Bruins certainly had to have some doubt about how the night might go when Vincent Lecavalier won a faceoff in the right circle, and Purcell scored on Tampa Bay’s opening shot.
Lucic countered for Boston less than seven minutes later with a wrist shot from the slot that got past Roloson. Krejci’s third goal of the series, after he took a nice backhand pass from along the boards from Daniel Paille, gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead with 3:30 remaining in the first period.
But an inability to take advantage of three more power plays caught up with Boston in the middle of the second period when Tampa Bay, which hadn’t scored in man-advantage situations since Game 2, converted three within 12 minutes to regain the lead for good.
“We’ve been able to bounce back, but it’s going to be our toughest challenge. We need to put together a full 60 minutes and that’s going to be important going into the next game,” Lucic said.
“You have a chance to close it out and you don’t do it, being up 3-2 you get another chance,” Lucic added. “You’ve got to be excited for it, you’ve got to enjoy it and you’ve got to be looking forward to that challenge, because for almost all of us it’s the biggest game of our careers. You’ve got to go out there, have fun and have no regrets.”