On Thursday night the Boston Bruins defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-3, in a shootout at the TD Banknorth Garden. It was the Black & Gold's third win in a row and third win of the season over the Lightning.
Rookie forward Phil Kessel delivered the victory to Boston in the seventh round of the penalty shot contest when he beat Tampa Bay goalie Marc Denis top-shelf, while Boston's Tim Thomas
, who had been outstanding throughout the game, stopped the Lightning's Ruslan Fedotenko and sent the fans home happy with a triumphant wave of his stick.
"He's playing really strong," said B's captain Zdeno Chara
of Thomas after the game. "You can see in his game that he is playing with a lot of confidence.
"He's very competitive and he never gives up on any puck."
Going into Thursday's game the Bruins had returned to Boston on a hot streak.
Winners of their last two games and three of their last four -- including a 4-3 shootout victory in Pittsburgh on Nov. 22, a 3-1 victory in Toronto on Nov. 25 and a 4-1 win in Toronto on Nov. 28, the Bruins were looking to inch even closer to the 8th and final playoff spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference.
Despite the playoff implications surrounding the contest (Tampa Bay had stood only 3 points ahead of Boston in a tie for eighth) the game started very slowly and four minutes into the first period, both teams had taken only three total shots between them.
The game did speed up, however, as with 8:54 left in the period, off a feed from Andrew Alberts, Boston's Patrice Bergeron
circled the net behind Tampa Bay's Marc Denis and backhanded the puck off the Lightning goaltender.
The disk hit Denis' stick and popped up in front of the goal, into the strike zone of "batter" Brad Boyes, and he bunted it, backhanded, past the helpless goalie -- it was Boyes' sixth goal of the season and it lengthened his personal goal-scoring streak to three consecutive games.
Tampa's Eric Perrin turned the tables on the Bruins late in the first period, however, as Perrin took advantage of a Boston mistake in the Lightning zone, skated the length of the rink and into the Boston end to fire a laser through B's starter Tim Thomas
For Perrin, a one-time collegiate teammate of Thomas at the University of Vermont, the score was his sixth goal of the season and sent the teams to the intermission locked at 1-1.
The UVM reunion continued when former Catamount Martin St. Louis scored a short-handed goal -- assisted, of course, by Perrin with 15:16 left in the second period,
The game slowed down considerably after Tamps Bay's second goal but P.J. Axelsson woke up the crowd with an end-to-end rush, with a Bruin in the box no less, and beat Denis to tie the game on his own short-handed marker.
It was Axelsson's 7th goal, assisted by Chara and Bergeron at 18:26 and the clubs went to the locker room tied 2-2.
It didn't take long for the third period to get exciting, as early in the period Thomas made a masterful save and stopped a St. Louis shot puck with the glove side of his blocker, preventing it from sliding over the goal line by mere inches-- a play that was eventually reviewed by video and ruled "no goal."
Unfortunately for the home crowd, Tampa Bay forward Vincent Lecavalier made his next try stick just a few minutes later when he bested Thomas at 9:50 of the third and put the Lightning in control at 3-2.
The Lightning lead was short lived, however, as Boston's Glen Murray quickly scored to make it 3-3 at 10:55. It was Murray's 13th goal of the season, assisted by Jason York and Marc Sarvard.
"They played well," said Murray of Tampa Bay. "We didn't have our best game, but Timmy kept us in there. We plugged away and we were lucky to tie it up."
Murray's goal sent the game to sudden death overtime where the goalies were the story.
The B's Thomas stopped all three Tampa shots in OT and ended the game with 31 saves; meanwhile Denis stopped 3 shots in the extra period and ended four periods with 22 stops.
The shootout went an unbelievable seven rounds with both goaltenders stealing the show, yet again.
"It's nerve wracking," said York. "Sitting on the bench watching, I can imagine how the fans feel…especially tonight, it was do-or-die every shot for Timmy."
But Kessel finally broke Denis' extra session shutout, while Thomas stopped Fedotenko to preserve the lead and the win.
"It feels good to help our team win," said Kessel. "I hadn't shot in the penalty shootouts yet.
"That was my first."
"It wasn't our prettiest game overall," said Thomas. "We still did the things that kept us close and gave us the chance to come back and we never gave up."
Boston head coach Dave Lewis praised Thomas and Kessel.
"We were careless at times with the puck and he reacted," said Lewis of Thomas. "He's reading plays really well and he's moving really well. And he made some top, top saves for us.
"It was just great to see [Phil] score," added Lewis. "What a great moment for him."
The Bruins, now 12-9-2 and 4th Northeast Division, charter to Carolina tomorrow, where they start a two-game road swing versus the Stanley Cup champions on Saturday night at 7:00 and then move on to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Monday in the Bell Centre.
The Black and Gold return home to the TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday, December 7th when they square off against the Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 p.m.
Tickets are available for all home games online by clicking here
, at the TD Banknorth Garden Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by phone at 617.624.BEAR.