For a series that boasted high scoring games, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals seemed a lot more like the goaltending matchup hockey fans had expected.
Tim Thomas recorded his second shutout of the playoffs, and his third career playoff shutout in the Bruins 1-0 win over the Lightning.
At the other end, Dwayne Roloson was spectacular for the Bolts, stopping 37 of 38 shots including several highlight-reel saves to keep Tampa Bay in the game.
The Bruins peppered Roloson with shots and dominated the play, yet the game was scoreless until just after the 12 minute mark of the third period. Horton finally broke the tie when he went hard to the net, taking a nice pass from David Krejci and snapping a shot past Roloson, sending TD Garden into an explosion of cheers.
The Bruins' faithful had much to applaud as the Bruins controlled the tempo, nearly scoring on several odd-man rushes throughout the game. The Bruins nearly stretched the lead to two on a 2-on-1 shortly after when Michael Ryder was robbed by Roloson's left pad as he slid across the crease and kicked out Ryder's one-timer.
Boston was finally able to break Roloson's s 7-0 record in elimination games. After he was pulled in Game's 2 and 4, Roloson came back in Game 6 and made 16 saves to get the win for the Lightning. It was an unimpressive return and it raised questions on who would start for Tampa Bay in Game 7. But Lightning head coach Guy Boucher told the media Thursday that Roloson would indeed be back in net, and he gave the Lightning his best game of the series.
Tampa Bay got a scare early in the 2nd period when a Bruins point-shot deflected off Martin St. Louis' stick and struck Steven Stamkos square in the nose, causing him to leave the game. Stamkos returned just a few shifts later sporting a full cage and a huge gash over the bridge of the nose, and continued the game.
But Stamkos and the rest of the Lightning's top line of St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier couldn't muster up enough offense to beat Thomas. The trio combined for only four shots on goal and Stamkos was on for the only Boston goal. Thomas only had to make 24 saves to secure the shutout, in a series where he's made over 30 saves in all but two games.
Instead it was the Bruins top guns going, as the Krejci, Horton, and Milan Lucic line combined for 13 shots, with Horton scoring the winner from Krejci. Lucic had several opportunities including a breakaway on Roloson late in the first period. Lucic looked more like the player who co-led Boston in scoring this year with 30 goals and 62 points. He notched a goal and three assists in this series, after putting up only five points throughout the first two rounds.
In the closing five minutes of play, Tampa tried desperately to put pressure on Boston, but the Bruins stayed composed and Thomas only had to make a few big saves in the final moments. As the seconds winded down on the clock, TD Garden was electrified, as Bruins fans celebrated their first trip to the Stanley Cup Final since Ray Bourque and Cam Neely took them there in 1990, losing in five games to Edmonton.
On the other side awaits the Vancouver Canucks
, who have finally come on strong with the help of the Sedin twins, and of course Ryan Kesler. Kesler carried the team on his shoulders through the first two rounds against Chicago and Nashville, and in the third round Henrik and Daniel Sedin finally got hot, combining for 18 points in five games as the Canucks ousted the Sharks. Henrik now leads the league in points and Daniel leads the Canucks in goals.
The Bruins will have a short rest as the Stanley Cup Final won't begin until Wednesday, giving them a few days to nurse some wounds and get ready for the Canucks. The teams played only once during the regular season, with Boston taking a 3-1 decision, but the Canucks are coming off their best post-season in over a decade. They've had three days off already and will be well rested when the Bruins arrive in Vancouver for Game 1.
Puck-drop is at 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Rogers Arena. The Canucks will have home-ice advantage after finishing first overall in the regular season, winning the President's Trophy. The Bruins were awarded the Prince of Wales Trophy for advancing to the Cup Final as the top team from the Eastern Conference.