TAMPA — Lightning coach Guy Boucher insists his Big 3 players — Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos — are having a good Eastern Conference final.
"A lot more goes into it than scoring goals and getting points," he said Wednesday night.
That may be true. But those are the measurements for big-time players in big-time games. And in Tampa Bay's 5-4 win over the Bruins in Game 6, in front of a howling crowd of 21,426 at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Big 3 came through.
An argument can be made that with eight points among them — more than making up for the loss of injured wing Sean Bergenheim and his nine goals — they saved the Lightning's season.
St. Louis had two goals and an assist, Stamkos a goal and two assists, and Lecavalier two assists as the Lightning tied the best-of-seven series at three games apiece and set up a Game 7 showdown Friday in Boston. That came after they combined for an empty-net goal and three points in three previous games.
"We knew the importance of this game," Stamkos said. "We put a lot of pressure on ourselves every night. It was nice to get rewarded."
"They've been doing it all year," right wing Teddy Purcell said. "They're our best three players. When the season was on the line, those three were there. It's not much of a surprise."
They did not perform in a vacuum.
Purcell scored twice and gave the Lightning a 1-0 lead 36 seconds into the game on a great wrist shot off a clean faceoff win by Lecavalier. Steve Downie had two assists, and goalie Dwayne Roloson was shaky at times but made 16 saves to go 7-0 in elimination games.
Shots were difficult to come by. Tampa Bay had a 26-20 advantage. That made special teams paramount, and that is where the Lightning buried the Bruins.
Tampa Bay was 3-for-4 on the power play and 4-for-5 on the penalty kill.
"It was the difference-maker," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "They scored three goals on the power play, and it took us a long time to get our first one. That certainly dictated the game."
Trailing 2-1 in the second, Tampa Bay got power-play goals from St. Louis and Purcell to take a 3-2 lead with 6:25 left in the period. Stamkos got the Lightning's third straight power-play goal 34 seconds into the third period with a one-timer from his favorite spot, the left faceoff circle, to make it 4-2.
Here is where the game got interesting.
Boston's David Krejci scored the second of his three goals on the power play 9:46 into the third to make it 4-3. But 29 seconds later, St. Louis answered with his 10th goal of this playoffs at the end of a two-on-one with Stamkos to make it 5-3.
That turned out to be a huge goal. Krejci scored again with 6:32 left when Roloson, trying to make a save, inadvertently knocked the puck into the net with his leg.
The goal was Krejci's 10th of the playoffs. He and St. Louis are tied for the league lead.
"We learned again (Wednesday) they're not giving us anything," Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said of the Lightning. "Not that we're looking for them to give us anything. It's the best-of-seven series for a reason."
Which is kind of the point Boucher has been trying to make about Lecavalier, Stamkos and St. Louis: It is the totality of their efforts, not one game, that matters.
"I disagreed they didn't have big games in the last games," Boucher said. "They had good games before. It just wasn't going in for them. So, for me, they just got the result of their previous games' hard work. I don't think it's an on-and-off switch. It's something that you build every game, and they got what they deserved."
They deserved it because they kept their legs moving. They did not play tentatively.
"We said," St. Louis said, "let's just go play."