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Wednesday, Nov 22, 2017
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Martin Fennelly Columns

Big Three come up big to help Lightning answer

TAMPA - Marty St. Louis, who scored the game-winner and was voted the game's No. 1 star, skated a circle or two on the ice when it was done — and the Lightning weren't. He pumped a fist. He had stepped up. "I think that's what you play for, even when you're a kid in the driveway just pretending it's Game 7," St. Louis said. Now it is Game 7 — again. Oh, you kid.
The Lightning answered in Game 6 on Wednesday night, answered as they answered the other three times someone dared try to eliminate them from these Stanley Cup playoffs. The Boston Bruins fared no better the first time out than the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Lightning answer: 5-4 and on to another Game 7. The Big Three answered, too. There would be no end to this remarkable season, not Wednesday, not here. St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Vinny Lecavalier helped make sure of it. "Those are the ones you want to play in, the do-or-die games," Marty said. "Your back's against the wall, and you want to leave it out there." Silent for three games, two of which the Bolts lost to fall behind 3-2 to Boston in these Eastern Conference finals, questioned at every turn the last few days, these three needed to be there. Two goals and an assist for St. Louis. A goal and two assists from Stamkos. Two assists from Lecavalier. Eight points. I guess that's an answer. OK, add a fourth and fifth on to the Big Three. Throw in Teddy Purcell, who has come so far for this team, and who scored two more goals. Throw in Steve Downie, with hustle everywhere and two fabulous assists. And, yes, just for the sake of hanging in there, throw in Dwayne Roloson, who overcame a truly shaky start and somewhat shaky finish for the win. He's 7-0 in elimination games. Does Lightning coach Guy Boucher get sick of being wrong all the time? But how do you not come back to men who took turns driving the Lightning to this Game 7? Lecavalier set up Purcell's first goal seconds in, winning a draw and getting it back to him. Then the Bruins scored twice. And the building wobbled. St. Louis scored the goal that tied it at 2 on a back-hander in the second period, assisted by Lecavalier and Stamkos. It brought the Forum and the Bolts back to life. Stamkos scored huge insurance on a vintage (if a 21-year-old can already be vintage) one-timer to make it 4-2. And when that wasn't enough, when the Bruins kept coming, scoring off a Lecavalier penalty, Stamkos answered 30 seconds later, starting St. Louis and Downie on their merry way, and Marty finished it off with his 10th playoff goal. It wasn't that overtime winner in Game 6 in Calgary in 2004, but it will do. And is it really any wonder that the Bolts' power play, dormant for three games, clicked three times? "The last couple of games, we were squeezing our sticks a little bit and we didn't have that poise," St. Louis said. "But tonight we just said 'Go.' We've got nothing to lose. Let's go play. "Our backs are against the wall, so let's just go play ..." The Lightning needed these guys. Your stars have to be your stars. This game could have been about those two Boston goals in the first period. The Big Three wouldn't let it happen, They'd combined for just three points the previous three games, two assists and a St. Louis empty-netter. Vinny looked out of it. Marty looked worn down, Stamkos wasn't finishing. "You want to be a guy who comes up big, we all want to do that," Stamkos said Wednesday morning. They did that. There wasn't going to be a Game 7 if they didn't find a way to beat Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who was so strong when it mattered in Game 5. They had to find a way. They did that. Back to Boston these Bolts go. Game 7. They ought to play it in the driveway. Marty St. Louis pumped his fist again. Oh, you kid.
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