TAMPA BAY – The comeback began with silence.
The Lightning locker room was dead quiet when coach Guy Boucher stood to address his team at the end of the first period Saturday. What do you say to a team that has just been pummeled into submission? Boston had taken a 3-0 lead in the most embarrassing of ways – off dreadful turnovers and stupid plays. The goaltender who had lifted the team and the franchise, Dwayne Roloson(notes), had been pulled in favor of Mike Smith(notes), who recently pondered whether he'd ever play for the Lightning again. Nobody at the St. Pete Times Forum could possibly watch that first period of Game 4 and think the Lightning would come from being down three goals and win an NHL playoff game.
So what do you say?
Boucher is normally an emotional fellow, and most coaches would have given the fire-and-brimstone act. Most coaches would have lapsed into the do-or-die rant. Some coaches might have even threatened jobs.
Boucher didn’t do any of that.
“He was very calm,” Smith said.
Boucher told the players all three goals were because of mistakes – simple mistakes. He told the players to get the next goal. Just get the next goal.
That was one.
Purcell went down to a knee and threw an uppercut into the air. It was quite an emotional celebration for a team that had been eviscerated on its home ice after getting shut out two nights before. One goal? Great – the Lightning still trailed 3-1 in the game and probably in the series after another couple of hours. But Purcell had done what his coach wanted – he got the first goal.
Two minutes and three seconds later, Purcell scored again.
And this celebration was funny – Purcell whipped the puck over the left shoulder of Thomas and it looked like he was already celebrating before the goal got to the cage. He strode toward the glass and threw himself into it. Then he threw another uppercut.
That was two.
The fans woke up. It felt like the entire Gulf Coast woke up. The Lightning, so jittery in the first period, now looked quite sure.
And the Bruins, so overpowering before, looked stunned.
Coach Claude Julien put it more starkly:
“We almost looked like we were paralyzed out there.”
That was three.
Yet there was still an entire second half of a game to go. Another goal by the Bruins would have reversed the tide.
But back in the Lightning locker room, there was no need for another speech. The quiet was a much different quiet now. It was not the quiet of worry; it was the quiet of resolve.
That was four.
You just know a pretty large chunk of Tampa Bay wished Dwayne Roloson was still in net. Mike Smith’s a guy who was sent to the minors by the Lightning and cleared waivers. It was at that point that he started thinking he’d never play in another NHL game. Playoffs? He had never logged a single second in the playoffs before this series. Give him credit – Smith is not one of these goalies who hides his feelings. He knows he’s had challenges staying cool and everyone else knows it, too. When he got the call Saturday, Roloson told him, “Go in, relax, you’re a good goaltender.”
And he was. Smith made the save of the game late in the third period with less than two minutes left, squeezing his right pad against the post to block a shot destined for the back of the net. When asked about the play after the game, Smith paused and said, “I don’t remember.”
Boston pulled Thomas late, but by then the Bruins looked just as defeated as the Lightning did in the first. A two-on-one broke out and Martin St. Louis(notes) fired one toward an empty net as if he was getting his last shot in before the end of skatearound.
That was five.
High above the ice surface, Bruins president Cam Neely stood up and grabbed his Blackberry, his right fist clenched.
St. Louis coasted around the back of the net and out toward his teammates. He lifted his head toward the rafters and let out a mighty shout.
But there was no way anyone could hear it.
There was too much noise.