After covering almost 20 years’ worth of NHL games with the Bruins and hundreds of Stanley Cup Playoff games, the Game 7 between the Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final goes down as the single best game I’ve ever covered.
The 1-0 win for the Black and Gold that vaulted them to the 2011 Stanley Cup Final was played this week nine years ago -- May 27, 2011 -- at TD Garden with everything on the line for a Bruins core group at the height of its powers.
It was a perfectly-executed game between the Bruins and Lightning fine-tuned by a pair of long postseason runs. There wasn’t a single penalty called in the entire game by the referring crew of Dan O’Halloran and Stephen Walkom and just a miniscule 57 whistle stoppages. Both teams were locked into playing mistake-free hockey and did just that for the first two and a half periods of the do-or-die game with everything on the line.
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“I have nothing really intelligent to say right now,” said legendary NBC play-by-play man Doc Emrick on the telecast at the beginning of the third period, “other than to say, ‘It’s been terrific.’ ”
The Bruins had the better of the chances with Tampa Bay goaltender Dwayne Roloson forced to make 37 saves, while Tim Thomas had to stop just 24 shutouts in the eventual shutout performance.
The Bruins had the better of the chances whether it was a Milan Lucic breakaway in the first period, or the 22 shots on net peppered by the top two forward lines of Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi throughout the game.
But it was all about the entire Bruins team with top shutdown pair Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg both topping 26 minutes of ice time for the game and the B’s defense holding both Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos to just single shots on net.
It was the mild-mannered, powerful Seidenberg who drilled St. Louis with a big open ice hit in the first two minutes of the game and summarily made the announcement to the finesse Lightning bunch that that they were in for a tough night.
For the Bruins it was about cracking the 1-3-1 trap employed by Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, and that opening finally presented itself midway through the third period. It took the perfectly-executed play to break their system and win the game, and that’s exactly what the Bruins pulled off.
Andrew Ference carried the puck out of the defensive zone before hitting Krejci in a perfect spot in the neutral zone between two defenders. Krejci skated it quickly into the offensive zone and created a 2-on-1 with Horton moving without the puck to the net, and it was a perfect, slick dish from the playmaking center to Game 7 hero Horton that produced the game-winner.
Horton scored the Game 7 game-winner against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round as well, and those two goals cemented his massive status in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final run before a dirty Aaron Rome hit in the Stanley Cup Final took him out of that series.
The game was finished off by Seidenberg blocking his eighth shot of the game in a warrior performance from the German defenseman, and featured Stamkos playing with his nose all stitched up and repaired after taking a heavy, deflected Johnny Boychuk slap shot right to his face.
The game had toughness, playmaking and the ultimate compete level with none of the nonsense that can sometimes mar postseason affairs.
There certainly have been Bruins playoff games with more nastiness and times when it took an amazing, iconic play to win a clinching game in a series. But from beginning-to-end there has never been anything quite as tense and well-played as a 0-0 game through the first 50 plus minutes of the game where it became clear that the first hockey team to crack was going to lose the game.
It took a perfectly designed and executed play from the Black and Gold to put the finishing move on the Lightning, and that was only appropriate given the tenor of the game. Anybody who was at TD Garden on May 27, 2011, remembers the exact emotion in the aftermath as they left the building saying to themselves, “Damn, that was a good hockey game."