BOSTON – Tim Thomas stopped every shot Friday night and gave the Boston Bruins a chance for the biggest prize of all — the Stanley Cup.

Forget their 21-year absence from the finals. Don’t talk about their epic playoff collapse of last season. And certainly don’t mention their powerless power play.

None of that matters after the Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 1-0 on Nathan Horton’s goal with 7:33 left in the penalty-free Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

“I’m just happy to see those guys smiling in the dressing room,” Boston Coach Claude Julien said. “Right now we’re four wins from winning the Stanley Cup.”

The Bruins will open the Stanley Cup finals Wednesday in Vancouver against the Western Conference champion Canucks.

Boston won its most recent championship in 1972 and hadn’t reached the finals since 1990, when it lost to the Edmonton Oilers.

The Bruins left far behind the specter of last year’s playoff failure. They blew a 3-0 lead in games and a 3-0 lead in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing 4-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

And this season they squandered 3-2 series leads against Montreal and Tampa Bay. But they beat the Canadiens 4-3 in overtime in Game 7, with Horton scoring the winning goal. Then Horton, playing in the postseason for the first time in his career after five years with the Florida Panthers, came through again with his eighth playoff goal.

“He certainly has played like a big-game player,” Julien said.

So has Thomas — all season.

The 37-year-old goalie led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage after missing all of last year’s playoffs because of a hip injury. After offseason surgery, he was as good as ever, and that includes the 2008-09 season when he won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie.

“I think a lot of people thought I was over the hill,” Thomas said. “I knew it wasn’t true. I put in a lot of work over the summer and I’ve had an unbelievable year. I’ve been blessed.”

He made 24 saves in his third career playoff shutout and second of the Lightning series.

Thomas’ playoff performance is even more remarkable because the Bruins scored just five goals on 61 power plays in the postseason. But there were no power plays for either side Friday night in a clean, hard-hitting game.

Horton beat goalie Dwayne Roloson by deflecting a pass from left to right across the slot from David Krejci.

That set off a loud celebration among Bruins fans, who have waited a long time for a trip to the finals.

With three seconds left and the puck in the Lightning zone, Bruins center Patrice Bergeron raised his stick while standing in the “spoked B” logo symbolizing the Bruins at center ice. And when the game ended, Thomas raised both arms and arched his back against the net that the Lightning never reached in the decisive game as yellow and black towels given to fans fluttered to the ice.

“It’s great to be a part of something amazing. That was the highest level of concentration I have experienced,” Bergeron said. “I couldn’t wait to jump on (Thomas) and enjoy the moment.”

The Bruins improved to 2-3 in Game 7s under Julien but have won the last two. They’re 11-10 overall in Game 7s.

Andrew Ference started the only scoring play on the left side behind the red line with a pass to Krejci, also on the left. Horton was on the same side, but when Krejci got the puck, Horton veered to the right. Krejci skated in and threaded a pass to Horton, who put the puck in the open side between Roloson and the left post.

“I don’t think he could have stopped that puck and I don’t think he could have done better than he did tonight,” Lightning Coach Guy Boucher said. “It’s hard to look at. One little defensive mistake.”

Roloson fell to 7-1 in elimination games in his career, including 4-1 this postseason. Tampa Bay rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat Pittsburgh in the first round, with Roloson shutting out the Penguins 1-0 in Game 7 on the road.

“I wasn’t concerned about my team,” Thomas said. “I was concerned about Roloson playing so well.”

But after beating the Bruins in Game 6 to force one more contest, the Lightning’s comeback fortunes changed.

“They have guys that can put the puck in the net and defend,” Boucher said. “Obviously they’ve got it all.”