By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON So this is what its like to witness the first strands of greatness.
Everybody remembers when the immortals of the Boston sports scene enjoyed their first moment that catapulted them into another level of stardom, and Tyler Seguin ownedhis on Tuesday night.
Roger Clemens fanning 20 Seattle Mariners. Tom Brady cooly leading the game-winning drive in the closing seconds of Super Bowl XXXVI. Any number of Larry Bird performances during the 1979-80 season that triggered a Celtics turnaround from a 32-win team to an NBA contender . . . and then champion.
Cam Neely was certainly prolific once he arrived in Boston, and Ray Bourque was as solid as they come during his long career patrolling the blue line for the Bruins, but its been a long, long time since the Black and Gold have had a player quitelike Tyler Seguin.
Seguin is all about flash and offensive prowess. Tenacity. Skating speed. The natural-born ability to score goals and the swagger to make plays that can demoralize an opponent. Oh, and did we mention that the kid can shoot a puck with the best of them?
After a modest rookie year that resulted in 22 regular-season points, Seguin exploded for two goals and two assists in the second period of Bostons 6-5 win over the Lightning in Game 2 at TD Garden Tuesday night. His four-point night helped put away Tampa Bay . . . and was the first"Seguin moment" in thebuilding ofa legend. "Sitting for a long stretch of time and then coming in and having the impact he had is pretty great. Its neat to see. Were all happy for him," said veteran Mark Recchi. "Hes worked hard and hes learned a lot this year. He has grown and hes grown as a person and a player. He came out and he worked hard and he competed. He worked hard because he competed and thats a great thing."
The 17,000-plus fans at the Garden erupted with huge cheers each time he hopped over the boards. Ty-ler Se-guin chants reverberated through the building in the middle of his coming-out party in the second period. It was like nothing the Garden has seen in a long, long time during the playoffs, and it speaks to both the elite skill set and the honest-to-goodness heart on Seguin that ticks beneath his Black and Gold sweater.It was difficult to take in the middle 20 minutes of Boston's first conference final win in nearly two decades and not feel like a Bruins'star was born
He was extremely good tonight, theres no doubt about that, one of our best players out there," said coach Claude Julien. "And he used his speed very well tonight. He challenged their defensemen with it, did a great job.
"And it was nice to see him respond that way. Hes competed extremely well and hes been an excited individual waiting for his opportunity, and hes certainly making the best of it. Tyler Seguin obviously played without a doubt his best hockey of the season."
It was an energetic, electric performance that validated the Bruins' choice of Seguin with the No. 2 overall pick in last summers draft, and it also felt very much like the first game of the Tyler Seguin Era in Boston.
Things looked grim for the Bs when a Marty St. Louis goal off a Steven Stamkos play gave Tampa Bay a 2-1 lead with seven seconds left in the first period. But then came the Seguin Show, and it was worth the wait. It literally transformed the momentum of the game, and might have changed the complexion of the series given the circumstances and the timing.
The 19-year-old rookietook a long home-run pass from Michael Ryder that broke him loose through the neutral zone with tons of speed, similar to his first NHL goal in Prague back in early October. Instead of beating Dwayne Roloson low forehand, as hed done in Game 1 whilesplitting the defense, Seguin instead switched to an elevated backhand as the Lightning goalie hopelessly flailed ata puck destined for the back of the net.
Not only wasn't that it, it was just the beginning.
He kept right on pushing the broken plays at both ends of the ice, and turned a Tim Thomas save off a Ryan Malone breakaway into a stalwart offensive rush that finished with Nathan Horton feeding Seguin for a one-timer that Roloson didnt have a chance to stop. It was the kind of laser one-timer that only a select number of NHL players can finish off, and Seguin has those goods.
The B's rookiealso set up Bostons second power-play goal of the game -- equaling its total for the entire postseason -- when he finally got some special-teams trust from the coaching staff. That has been a long time coming.He rifled a puck off Ryder camped in front of the net, and Ryder managed to gather possession and flip a backhand shot past Roloson. Make that point No. 3 for Seguin on the night, and Exhibit A on what he could do with PP time after all of the talk about bringing him along slowly over the last few weeks. The howitzer shot and the passing feel on the man advantage are the kind of tools that power plays were made for.
Seguin capped off an amazing second period with his fourth point and second assist when he flipped a no-look, saucer pass to the slot that was gathered in by Chris Kelly in the middle of the ice, who then fed Ryder for the goal.
When it was over the Bruins had a 6-3 lead, and they held on for the victory that tied the series at 1-1.
And when it was over so was Tyler Seguin's time in hockey purgatory, a place of healthy scratches and worries of being sent to the World Junior tournament. In each of those instances during the season, Seguin responded strongly to the adversity by scoring a goal or playing strong, and revealed a little bit of what's to come for No. 19 in Boston.
"Whenever I face adversity, I always try to take a negative and turn it into a positive, said Seguin. "With me, I try to stay just focused on my game. If Im in my head and blaming people, Im not going to be playing well. I tried to stay positive the last 20 games this season, and these last two games Ive been trying to do that with whatever ice time I get and any opportunities. I just want to be ready and be prepared for them.
On this night, that preparation paid off in a performance no one will ever forget.