Nathan Horton scored with 7 minutes, 33 seconds left in Game 7, sending the host Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in more than two decades with a 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals last night.
Horton, the right wing on Boston's top line, cleanly beat goalie Dwayne Roloson by deflecting a pass across the slot from David Krejci. That set off a loud celebration among Bruins fans, who have waited a long time for a trip to the finals.
Tim Thomas made 24 saves in his third career playoff shutout and second this season.
Boston will open the finals in Vancouver against the Western Conference champion Canucks on Wednesday. The Bruins won their most recent championship in 1972 and hadn't reached the finals since 1990, when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
Both goalies were outstanding behind teammates playing energetic, impressive defense in a hard-hitting game without a single penalty.
With 3 seconds left and the puck in the Lightning zone, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron raised his stick while standing in the "B" symbolizing the Bruins at center ice. And when the game ended, Thomas raised both arms and arched his back against the net that the Lightning never reached in the decisive game.
"I think a lot of people thought I was over the hill,"' said the 37-year-old Thomas, a Vezina Trophy finalist who was sidelined throughout last year's playoffs. "I knew it wasn't true. I put in a lot of work over the summer and I've had an unbelievable year. I've been blessed."
The Bruins improved to 2-3 in Game 7s under coach Claude Julien but have won the last two. The previous victory came in the opening round this season, 4-3 in overtime over the Montreal Canadiens. Horton also scored the winning goal in that one.
Boston is 11-10 in Game 7s.
Andrew Ference started the only scoring play on the left side behind the red line with a pass to Krejci, also on the left. Horton was on the same side, but when Krejci got the puck, Horton veered to the right.
Krejci skated in and threaded a pass to Horton, who put the puck in the open side between Roloson and the left post.
Tampa Bay forward Steven Stamkos was struck in the face by a puck early in the second period and briefly left the game. He was hit on the left side of the head off a hard shot from the right point by Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk and he immediately dropped to the ice. There was some blood on the ice when the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2008 got up and skated quickly to his bench, holding his face.
He missed about 5 minutes of game time, then returned with a full cage face shield in place of the visor he had been wearing.
* Manny Malhotra's season with the Canucks was supposed to be over when a deflected puck exploded into his left eye in mid-March. There were bigger concerns that his vision and career were done, too.
But Malhotra was cleared for "light contact" in practice, reason enough to celebrate - whether or not the popular assistant captain and valuable shutdown center will be ready next week for the Stanley Cup finals. *