Kukla's Korner

Early Mistake Paves the Way as Boston Shuts Down Tampa in Game Three

It came only 1:09 into the game but it stood up for the remaining 58:51.

David Krejci’s first period goal put the Boston Bruins ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning last night in game three of the Eastern Conference Final but the team’s stifling defensive effort kept them there and allowed them to leave the St. Pete Times Forum with a 2-1 series lead, having closed out the Bolts in shutout fashion, 2-0.

It was one mistake – and a team goof, overall, despite those that will want to put the screws to Victor Hedman on the goal – but it was enough to put the Lightning on the losing end of a game where both teams accomplished a lot of what they set out to do on the heels of Tuesday night’s head-spinning, 6-5 decision for Boston.

If game two was wide open pond hockey, game three was played, seemingly, in a walk-in cooler, with little room to maneuver for either side, each team clamping down defensively and Boston’s clogging of the neutral zone effectively frustrating the Lightning throughout.

And in a game like that, when a one-goal lead becomes a two-goal lead, any hope of a turnaround goes right out the window. The Lightning may, in fact be a team that “always comes back” in third periods, as head coach Guy Boucher is often quick to remind, but that wasn’t happening against Tim Thomas and the Boston defensive effort in front of him last night – and certainly not after Andrew Ference’s insurance goal snuck through Dwayne Roloson’s pads and trickled into the Tampa Bay net. Not, even, with nearly 12 minutes still to play.

Exhibit A to hammer that point (of no return) home? Roloson’s reaction might do the job – his angered bark at one or both of the defense pair of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Mike Lundin after the goal was scored seemed to suggest that the Lightning netminder knew precisely that Boston’s second goal meant the Bolts would leave this one trailing in the series.

Roloson wouldn’t address whether or not he had any sort of look at the Ference shot – “I’m going to keep that to myself,” he said – but it was clear that Lundin pretty well obstructed his view. Credit Roloson for not throwing his teammate under the bus there, his on-ice frustrations notwithstanding.

Afterwards, Lightning players spoke of finding some sort of happy medium between Tuesday’s barnburner and Thursday’s lack of an offensive spark. That sort of thing, when every bounce seems to be going the other way, often starts with an opportunistic power play and Tampa Bay (0-3) wasn’t able to capitalize in that department. A tally with the extra man would have been a big momentum-shifter last night but, alas, it never came. Without, the Bolts were left trying to break through five-on-five and Boston thwarted that, for the most part, all night.

When they didn’t and the Lightning were allowed a quality scoring chance here and there, there was Thomas to shut the door. He was excellent for the Bruins in game three but he isn’t unbeatable, as we saw in the first two installments in this series. For Tampa, if things stay closer to the way they were last night for the duration of the series, the basic approach of getting pucks through and onto Thomas and establishing a presence in front to get after rebound chances will be key. But before that can happen, the Lightning need a crisper entry into the offensive zone.

With the Bruins jamming things up in the middle, Tampa Bay is going to have to find a more effective way to bust through. The simple answer there is a dump-and-chase approach but, for that to work, the chasing team has to win more puck battles than they lose. Give Boston credit for not allowing the Lightning to do as much in game three.

The final margin of victory in game three may have ended up at two goals in Boston’s favor but all they needed was the first one. With two teams as equally effective at taking a lead and squeezing the life out of an opponent thereafter, if they stick to that kind of shutdown game, either side is capable of skating off with that kind of win.

Boston was on the upside of it in game three but even that ever-important first goal was close to going in the other direction. Again, it should go down more as a collective defensive failure for Tampa Bay and less on young Hedman, who went into the corner behind defense partner Brett Clark in his battle against Milan Lucic. If not for Clark becoming the unsuspecting recipient of an inadvertent pick from referee Stephen Walkom, he probably wins that battle along the boards and Hedman, then in place for support, even if Clark gets tied up with Lucic, has an excellent chance of connecting on an effective outlet pass, especially with all three Boston forwards caught down low. Krejci left alone in front is inexcusable, however, and both the collapsing center, Dominic Moore, and Steve Downie on the weak side wing have some responsibility there as well.

Regardless of fault, it was an isolated error in a game where such was going to provide all the cushion the winning side would need.

“It was one of those games where it was going to come down to who made that one mistake, and we made it – early,” said Boucher.

Unfortunately for the Lightning, they leave this one unable to atone for such a gaffe. At this time of year, that kind of singular lapse is so heavily magnified and often irreparable, as it turned out to be last night.

Even if it did come just 1:09 in.

JJ on Twitter

Filed in: Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, | Beasts of the Southeast | Permalink


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