|ESPN.com: NHL Playoffs 2011||[Print without images]|
TAMPA, Fla. -- It is one thing to utter the words, "We will make our power play work." Anyone can say the words. Go ahead. Try it.
It is in fact not only easy to say, it is one of the most commonly uttered phrases in this Eastern Conference final.
But to actually do it, to actually effect change, well, that is quite another thing, and it is why there's going to be a Game 7 in this series.
After going 240 minutes, 7 seconds without a power-play goal, the Tampa Bay Lightning opened the floodgates Wednesday night, scoring three times with the man advantage to defeat the Boston Bruins 5-4 and force a deciding game in Boston on Friday night.
Power-play goals have been like gold in this series, scarce yet a powerful tonic when they are unearthed.
Before Martin St. Louis scored from the slot at 7:55 of the second period, this series looked like it would end here in Tampa.
The Bruins, as is their way, gave up an early goal, but came back to score twice before the end of the first period and took a 2-1 lead.
The Lightning looked dreadful.
Eric Brewer, normally a rock, took two penalties after being caught out of position.
Dwayne Roloson was beaten twice high and looked more than a little uncomfortable.
|"Today we made a few adjustments, but it was just about getting pucks to the net," said Steven Stamkos of the Lightning's power play.|
Steven Stamkos appeared frustrated, missing a wide-open net with a high shot.
In short, the Lightning looked ready to buckle.
And then, as they promised they would do when they got off the plane in Tampa on Tuesday, they got it right on the power play.
St. Louis tied the game. Then, Steve Downie's nifty pass to Teddy Purcell gave the Lightning a lead they would not relinquish.
Stamkos' one-timer 34 seconds into the third -- with St. Louis having slid fully into the Boston goal -- gave the Lightning their third power-play goal of the game and a 4-2 lead.
"It's tough. They've got a good P.K. I thought the last couple games we struggled on the power play. And that's where we usually excel and we beat teams. So today we made a few adjustments, but it was just about getting pucks to the net," Stamkos said after he scored his first power-play goal of the series.
The Lightning went from the specter of a sudden end to their season to 60 minutes away from a possible trip to the Stanley Cup finals.
The funny thing is the Lightning have insisted since losing Game 5, a game in which they went 0-for-4 on the power play, that they would get down to the business of fixing their power play, watching tape and making adjustments.
And you think, sure, heard that story before.
But it was more than just words in this instance.
"Well, when you get a power play, if you don't score, you at least want to create some momentum. And it is a bit disappointing when you don't create at least some momentum, but you've just got to bounce back and stay the course and reload and stay focused," Purcell explained.
"Both teams had some struggles. And both teams have scored, so it's been up and down all series, we just got to try and remain consistent on it."
Pretty simple, really. Make teams pay for taking penalties and it changes everything.
Don't and, well, you're the Boston Bruins.
"To be honest, our last couple games, we just haven't been there. Not many scoring chances. Sometimes it's not about scoring but it's about gaining momentum," St. Louis said.
"Last couple of games, I feel we squeezed our sticks a little bit. Not enough poise," he added. "I think tonight we just let go. We said just let's go play. Nothing to lose here. Our backs are against the wall. Let's go play. And we got rewarded by putting the puck on net."
The Lightning have shifted the balance of power in this back-and-forth series in their favor heading into Game 7.
The two teams had not scored a power-play goal since the 16:16 mark of the second period of Game 2 when Michael Ryder accomplished the feat.
The mutually inept power plays actually played to the Bruins' strengths. The Lightning had a clear advantage on special teams, so having their power play go sideways was a key factor in Boston taking a 3-2 series lead. But in Game 6, the Bruins paid for their continuing impotence on the power play.
Krejci's second of three goals on the night happened to be the Bruins' first road power-play goal during the postseason.
Before the Lightning finally broke through with the man advantage, the Bruins had failed on three straight power-play attempts. And they got a fourth just seconds after St. Louis tied the game.
"Obviously, it was a difference-maker. They scored three goals on the power play, and it took us a long time to get our first one, and that certainly dictated the game," Boston coach Claude Julien said.
Score on just one of those first four power plays and this series is over. Score on just one of them and it is a dagger to the Lightning's faintly beating hearts.
But they didn't. And one now wonders if the cost wasn't just Game 6 but their first trip to the Stanley Cup finals since 1990. Because if they cannot get the power play on track in Game 7, they must hope and pray the Lightning go silent again.
That's no way to get to a Stanley Cup final.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.