Lightning in a bottle
Bruins grab series lead with shutout
TAMPA — Through a tangle of five Lightning jerseys, Milan Lucic saw one lone stick poised to strike in the low slot. The blade had the curve of a righthanded shot. Nathan Horton was curling high at the right circle, so it wasn’t him. Lucic knew then that the stick belonged to David Krejci.
“They were all focused on Nathan in the slot,’’ Lucic said. “I saw five black sweaters and I saw a stick there. I knew that’s where Krech was. Even though I didn’t see him, I just saw his stick, so I put it there.’’
From deep in the right corner, Lucic connected with a crisp pass to Krejci’s tape. Dwayne Roloson leaned forward, taking away Krejci’s forehand, so the center turned to his backhand and flipped the puck into the net.
And just like that, 69 seconds into the night, the Bruins had scored the only goal they needed in a 2-0 win over the Lightning at St. Pete Times Forum. The Bruins now have a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
“Our last three games, they scored the first goal,’’ Krejci said. “We wanted to get the first one, especially on the road to put the pressure on them. I think that’s what happened. It was a big one for us. I thought we played well again tonight. It was a good win.’’
Before Game 3, the Lightning had pledged to be tighter defensively. They did a rotten job of executing that command on Krejci’s goal.
After Johnny Boychuk rapped the puck into the corner and Lucic hunted it down, Tampa’s defensive structure crumbled. Brett Clark, as the left-side defenseman, made the correct move of engaging Lucic in a race for the puck. Partner Victor Hedman should have stayed at home in front of the net. But Hedman was sucked into the play and pursued Lucic. Mistake No. 1.
Once Lucic settled the puck, Horton scurried to the right circle to offer his wingman support. As the center, Dominic Moore stayed high and closed off Lucic’s passing lane to Horton. But right wing Steve Downie, instead of hustling to fill the hole Hedman left in front of the net, also strayed toward Horton. Mistake No. 2.
After Krejci received Lucic’s pass, Roloson went down, anticipating a forehand wrist shot. Mistake No. 3. Krejci had no trouble pulling to his backhand for the goal.
As the game evolved and it was clear the Bruins were putting on a 60-minute lesson on fundamentals, it was clear that one series of mistakes was enough to bury the Lightning. The Bruins allowed five goals to Tampa in each of the first two games. Last night, the Lightning got none because of a three-pronged effort.
The Bruins mastered puck possession, mostly because of their strength on faceoffs (57 percent). When the Lightning entered the Boston zone, the defense, led by Zdeno Chara (28:27 of ice time), smothered the Lightning’s top-heavy attack.
“To me, without a doubt, it was his best game of the series,’’ coach Claude Julien said of Chara. “[Dennis] Seidenberg, even Boychuk were really good tonight. [Boychuk] had a bit of a tough night the other night. So our back end did a great job. We never got caught with outnumbered situations like we did in the first two games. I thought we really adjusted well. We were alert, really focused, and determined tonight.’’
Whenever the Lightning got rare scoring sniffs, Tim Thomas was there to deny them time and again. Although Thomas made timely saves in the 6-5 Game 2 win, he wasn’t at his sharpest. Last night, Thomas was perfect — challenging shooters, sponging up shots through traffic, and pulling out the top-shelf stuff when necessary. Thomas’s best save might have been in the first, when he booted out a Vincent Lecavalier chance with a rocket of a right pad.
“I know he gave a lot of credit to the guys in front of him for letting him see those pucks,’’ Julien said. “But he had to make the big saves when he had to. He did that.’’
At 8:12 of the third, the Bruins got some insurance via a goal so dirty it was beautiful. Lucic started the sequence with a backhand chip to keep the puck in the zone. Tyler Seguin, hesitant to engage in races for the puck during the regular season, won the first of three straight battles. Seguin settled the puck, then sent it down the wall for Chris Kelly. In turn, Kelly fought off Lecavalier and Marc-Andre Bergeron for the puck and kept the cycle going. Michael Ryder hunted down the puck, then gave it to Andrew Ference at the point.
Because of how hard the forwards had worked the Lightning down low, Ference had plenty of room to let a shot go. With Kelly setting a screen on Roloson, Ference slapped the puck into the net. It was as blue-collar a goal as the Bruins have scored in the playoffs.
“We have a lot of guys who are good at reading the play and getting on the puck on the forecheck,’’ said Ference. “It’s a strength of a lot of our guys. We have an easy job of watching them work it and work hard. If we give them an outlet, sometimes there’s a lane. Sometimes there’s not. But if we can filter shots at the net when they do all the hard work, we have to try and reward them for what they do.’’