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May 24. 2011 8:01PM

Ian Clark's On Hockey: Bruins know clincher is always the toughest one


Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas celebrates their win over Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference Finals hockey game in Boston, Massachusetts May 23, 2011. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT ICE HOCKEY) 

PUSHED to the brink of elimination, the Tampa Bay Lightning will come out swinging.

After a 3-1 win in Game 5 on Monday, the Boston Bruins hold a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 6 is tonight in Tampa at 8 p.m.

The message in the Bruins locker room after Game 5 was that the elimination game in any series is always toughest, as Pittsburgh found out when the Lightning came back from a 3-1 hole in round one.

“We want to go in there and have a great game in Game 6. Obviously, they're going to come out and play desperate,” said Bruins forward Chris Kelly. “The last one is always the hardest one but we want to come out and do the same.”

The Stanley Cup finals beckon, but that notion is something that the team has to keep out of its collective head for now.

“It's an unbelievable feeling but we're still a long ways away,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who had the game-winner Monday. “That one game could take forever to get here. We have to make sure we kind of let this go and we bring the emotion from this game to the next one. It's a great feeling but we got to keep it out of our heads because we still have another big win to get.”

While the goaltending situation for Tampa Bay is in flux (more on that later), Boston has no such issues between the pipes.

Veteran Tim Thomas was brilliant again on Monday, making 33 saves and turning in what could go down as one of the greatest stops in Bruins history considering the circumstances.

With the score 2-1 Boston with 10:40 remaining in the game, Thomas was high above his crease to cut down the angle on an Eric Brewer slap shot from the blue line. Brewer's shot missed the net wide and came right to the tape of Lightning forward Steve Downie.

With Thomas still above the blue paint, Downie had the whole net to fire at from the left side. Downie did not hesitate and sent a quick shot on the cage that was heading inside the post. But out of nowhere came a diving Thomas, getting the edge of his stick blade on the puck and altering its course just enough to prevent the would-be goal.

“(When) I picked it up it was somewhere about halfway to me but I saw it was going wide and I was out toward the top of the crease so I didn't have time to get my whole body back,” Thomas said. “With the way the new boards are nowadays in all the arenas, you've got to be on your toes with the big bounces and the big bounce came out and it was just a reaction and a desperation and I'll admit I got a little bit lucky there.”

Lucky or no, Thomas' teammates marveled at the save and knew it was significant.

“Yeah, that was unbelievable. I was sitting on the bench and I thought it was for sure going to be a goal, those are always pretty easy tap ins,” Marchand said. “But Timmy came up with an unbelievable save there.”

In the other cage, Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher has decided on Dwayne Roloson for his goalie for Game 6, according to NHL.com. Mike Smith had been perfect in relief in the series, then started and went the distance on Monday. Smith played well on Monday and the two goals he allowed were not soft by any means.

“I'll give people a chance and I felt that Smitty had been terrific for us for a long, long time and he deserved to be in the game (on Monday) and at the same time I felt that giving a little breather to Rolly,” Boucher said. “It wasn't something emotional at all, it was something thought of methodically and it was unanimous as a staff that we wanted to give a breather to Rolly and give a chance for Smitty to participate in something he has been a part of.”

- - - - - - -



BRUINS DEFENSEMAN Johnny Boychuk is expected to be in the lineup tonight. Boychuck took a cheap shot from behind from Downie midway through the third period Monday.

“Johnny is fine,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I haven't had an opportunity to look at it, I haven't watched the video yet. I know some people have, but from what I hear it's not a great hit. I'll maybe save my comments more for after I see it.”

The question now is whether Downie will be suspended. He's not a stranger to league discipline and has been punished by the NHL already in the playoffs for leaving his feet to deliver a hit.

Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is iclark@unionleader.com.


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