2011 NHL Playoffs: This Eastern Conference Final Deserved Game 7

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2011 NHL Playoffs: This Eastern Conference Final Deserved Game 7
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Martin St. Louis (26) battles with a Boston defenseman and goaltender Tim Thomas.

It really couldn't have gone differently, could it?

Certainly, Boston Bruins fans would disagree—but when you consider the way this epic series has unfolded, there shouldn't really have been any doubt there would be a Game 7.

For every twist in this series, there's been another. For every action, a reaction. Each time we thought we had a turning point, an answer was provided.

As much as the Lightning dominated Game 1, Boston (or Tim Thomas more accurately) was just that good in Game 3.

The other games were decided by one goal (or a late empty netter to increase a lead to two).

We've seen the tremendous offensive performances of role players like Tyler Seguin and Teddy Purcell. Tim Thomas, Dwayne Roloson and Mike Smith have provided some tremendous 10 bell saves.

The stars Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Lucic, Patrice Bergeron and Krejic have all made their presences felt.

So here were are—after six tough, hard fought hockey games and no clear advantage has been established.

You can point to the special teams as the tipping point and they certainly were in Game 6, but previous to that game, the Lightning's power play had a three-game outage.

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Boston's man advantage had never been a threat, no reason to think it would suddenly become one now, yet they found ways to win games against the Lightning.

The Bruins have the size and strength, but the Lightning have the speed and skill.

Boston brings the aggression, while the Lightning counter with will and heart.

Both goaltenders came in with the best save percentages and goals-against averages in the playoffs. Both have been touched up for more goals than any other series this season.

"I don't care if we win 21-20, as long as we win,'' said Lightning netminder Dwayne Roloson to the Tampa Tribune.

Some will talk past history. Dwayne Roloson improved to 7-0 in elimination games while the Lightning franchise is 3-0 all-time in Game 7s.

Until they beat Montreal at TD Garden Center earlier this playoff year, the Bruins had lost four straight Game 7s at home. Thomas was 0-2 with a 3.45 GAA and an .875 save percentage going into that Game 7 against the Canadiens, which the B's won 4-3.

Thomas made 34 stops in 37 attempts. It took an overtime goal by Nathan Horton to exile Boston's Game 7 demons.

None of that will matter Friday night.

"It's one game now," Roloson said to the Tampa Tribune, "We have to play 60 minutes, 120 minutes or 420, or however long it takes to win the game."

The one thing you can certainly count on is Martin St. Louis being a big-time player in this upcoming hockey game. St. Louis lives for these—it's in his DNA to score the big goal at the most crucial time.

With his Lightning trailing 2-1 in Game 6, it was St. Louis who tied it. It was St. Louis who distracted goalie Tim Thomas while Steven Stamkos tee'd up one of this rocket shots to put the Lightning up by two early in the third period.

It was St. Louis who broke loose with Steve Downie on a two-on-one and deposited it into the net to re-establish the Lightning's two-goal lead after a Boston power-play goal made it closer.

Louie, Louie, oh baby! We gotta goal now!

"Those (elimination games) are the ones you want to play in, the do-or-die games," Marty told the Tribune's Martin Fennelly. "Your back's against the wall, and you want to leave it out there."

No one does that better than the Mighty Marty Mouse.

The pressure is on Boston. They're the higher seed on home ice, so they'll be heavily favored to win this game. The ghosts of playoff failures past haunt them, though. A first round dispatching of the Habs won't mean a hill of beans if they lose Friday night.

Tampa Bay wasn't even supposed to make it out of the first round. It's a club that's played four Game 7 type contests in these playoffs and still live to tell the tale.

Should they travel up to Boston and beat the Bruins in Game 7? Probably not.

But that's why teams that are ahead in the series don't want to see it go to the deciding game.

Things that aren't supposed to happen often do. After a series of letting goal after goal in, would anyone be surprised if Roloson pitches a shutout? Would they be surprised if he gives up five or six?

That is truly the uncertainty of the seventh game.

This type of series makes you wish there was a Game 8 or a Game 9. But it's gotta end sometime. The Vancouver Canucks and the Stanley Cup are waiting.

It's time to crown the Eastern Conference Champions.

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