TAMPA, Fla. -- If you're just matching skill against skill in the Eastern Conference finals, you would have to give the edge to the Tampa Bay Lightning, given the presence of major NHL hardware winners Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier. The trio's penchant for scoring in bunches, and at just the right times this spring, validates that theory.
But skill is only a checkmark on a ledger unless it is accompanied by will and work ethic, and that was something that was curiously absent for the Bolts in Game 3 on Thursday night.
"Offensively, I don't think we paid the price," St. Louis said after the Lightning dropped a 2-0 decision in Game 3 to fall behind in the series 2-1. "I think we have in the past couple of games. I'm not going to use any clichés here; we just didn't get it done."
Stamkos, so strong in Game 2, was not his normal self and was unable to get shots through the Bruins' defenders.
"These are the games that we usually play well in, one-goal games, we usually win them," he said. "We need to find ways to generate goals."
The Lightning failed on all three power-play attempts in Game 3, breaking a string of three straight playoff games with at least one power-play goal (they scored with the man advantage in five of six prior to Thursday's loss).
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher was less critical of his squad, saying it was a matter of two teams limiting each other's chances and the Bruins ended up with two goals.
"It's not like we were playing a phantom team and they were just going to let us run around and have our breakaways. Last game, we had four breakaways and two 2-on-1s," Boucher said. "Today was more of a playoff game between two teams who pride themselves on doing well defensively and playing tight. That's why we're here. If we weren't like that, we wouldn't be here."
The Bruins' first goal looked like a total breakdown by young defenseman Victor Hedman, who chased a loose puck into the corner and left David Krejci alone in front of the Tampa Bay net. But a scout explained to ESPN.com that it was actually a Tampa Bay winger who should have been covering Krejci, as the Lightning generally use both defensemen in the corners because the theory is they will have a better opportunity to win puck battles.
"We were supposed to have somebody in front of the net obviously, and that person wasn't there, so it's a very simple read," Boucher said. "But when you're eager to get on the ice sometimes, that will make you make some mistakes, and obviously it's a costly one and we paid for it."
Difficult to watch?
We had a chance to chat with Bruins president and Hall of Famer Cam Neely about whether he found it nerve-racking to watch his club from the press box as it tries to return to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990.
"It's a lot of fun, and it is nerve-racking," he said. "[GM Peter Chiarelli] and I joke all the time that it's never easy, but anything you want in life shouldn't be easy."
And finally ...
The Bruins are now 7-0 in the postseason when they score first, while the Lightning have allowed the first goal in a game only five times in 14 postseason games. The Lightning are also 0-for-3 when trailing after the first period, while the Bruins improved to 6-0 this spring when leading after the opening frame.