Boston advanced to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in two decades by beating Tampa Bay 1-0 in Game 7 thanks to Nathan Horton’s game-winning goal late in the third period.
Horton scored the winner with 7:33 left in the final period and goaltender Tim Thomas made 24 saves for a shutout as the Bruins captured the NHL semi-final series four games to three.
Right winger Horton crashed through the Lightning defense to reach the top of the crease where he redirected a pass from teammate David Krejci past goaltender Dwayne Roloson for the crucial strike.
“We drove the net, we did what we’re supposed to do,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “We were patient with that puck. It wasn’t always about rimming the puck in. Our guys chose at a real good time to make that pass and walk in.”
Boston begins the Stanley Cup finals in Vancouver against the other semi-final winners, the Canucks, on Wednesday.
The Bruins have one of the longest Stanley Cup droughts in the league, having not won an NHL title since Bobby Orr led them to the 1972 crown.
Their most recent trip to the finals was 1990, when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers.
“This is a dream come true,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said.
Right winger Horton spent his first half dozen years of his NHL career languishing in Florida with the league doormat Panthers before joining the Bruins at the start of this season.
Horton’s goal set off a raucous celebration among the Bruins fans in the Boston Garden arena. This is the first time Horton has played in the post-season.
Thomas recorded his third career playoff shutout and the second this season. He is just the second Bruins goalie in franchise history to get a shutout in a game seven playoff contest.
“We are going to Stanley Cup finals,” Thomas said. “I yelled little bit when we won there.”
Thomas started the season sharing the goaltending duties, but worked his way to No. 1 as the season progressed.
“Well, nobody in the world would have thought this a year ago today,” Thomas said. “A lot of people thought I was over the hill. I knew it wasn’t true. It is an amazing year. I have just been so blessed.”
Tampa Bay made the Bruins work for the win and their effort was illustrated by Lightning forward Steve Stamkos, who was hit in the face with the puck early in the game, but returned with his broken nose protected by a full face shield to play a regular shift and finish the contest.
“We have to be proud of our players,” Tampa coach Guy Boucher said. “They put everything on the ice, but at the same moment, I think it’s a moment to learn.”
US Olympic goaltender Thomas said he is looking forward to the challenge of playing the Canucks in hockey-mad Canada.
“We are going to battle and find a way to win,” Thomas said.