BOSTON — Steven Stamkos stood in front of his locker at TD Garden on Friday night, his broken nose swollen and red, with a blob of caked-on blood as adornment.
It was difficult to tell what hurt the Lightning center more: the deflected puck that slammed into his face five minutes into the second period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final or the Bruins' 1-0 victory that ended Tampa Bay's season and sent Boston to its first Stanley Cup final since 1990, against the Canucks.
"Heartbreaking," he called the loss.
As for the broken nose — and that he missed only a few shifts, returning with a full-face cage mask over his face — he said it was part of doing business. "It was nothing that was going to keep anyone in this dressing room from being on the ice, that's for sure," Stamkos said.
"It showed a lot about the person he is," wing Ryan Malone said. "We talked about it before the game that the team willing to pay the price and sacrifice usually comes out on top. But (Boston) found a way to get one in there, and we didn't."
Nathan Horton, who avoided suspension after he squirted Lightning fans with water from a bottle and threw it into the stands after Game 6, got the winner with 7:33 left in the third period, splitting Stamkos and defenseman Mattias Ohlund in front of the net, where he re-directed a perfect pass from Patrice Bergeron.
Tampa Bay had the play covered, but what coach Guy Boucher called some "hesitation" and "confusion" allowed Horton to break free.
"It's hard to look at because it's one little defensive mistake," Boucher said. "But in the end they deserved that goal. They made it happen."
The goal spoiled a stellar effort from goalie Dwayne Roloson, who made 37 saves as Boston outshot Tampa Bay 38-24.
Tim Thomas earned his third career playoff shutout and second of the series, though he was rarely tested as the Bruins played steady defense, especially while boxing out around the net.
Tampa Bay's top players also were muted. Stamkos, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier were limited to four shots.
"We played out best game of the playoffs," Bruins and former Lightning wing Mark Recchi said. "We controlled the game. Give Tampa credit. … They have some proud players over there and some good friends of mine. It was a heck of a series, but I believe the best team won."
The Lightning did what it wanted to do early: survive what it knew would be a fast Bruins start, play solid defense and wait for a mistake, as it did in its 1-0 Game 7 win over the Penguins in the East quarterfinal. "But we really could never get our legs going," Stamkos said. "And they had jump."
"There was nothing left in the tank," Boucher said. "If people knew how banged up guys are right now, it's incredible. We're talking about (Pavel) Kubina and (Sean) Bergenheim not playing, but there's guys playing in there, their bodies are just barely hanging on."
If not for Roloson, the outcome might have been more lopsided. He was especially good in the second period with 14 saves. "He played unbelievable," Malone said. "I don't know how may time shots were redirected with his head."
Still, the Lightning finished its most successful season since its 2004 Stanley Cup run, a season no one outside the organization saw coming, given it began with a new owner, new general manager and new coach.
"There's a lot to build on," St. Louis said. "I'm proud of everybody. It's disappointing for me on the losing end. But it's been a great year for the Tampa Bay Lightning."