Lackluster Bruins can't match Lightning

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are playing in the Eastern Conference finals and there were empty seats in the TD Garden toward the end of Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night.

Empty seats! And plenty of them.

That's because the Lightning won 5-2 and it was clear the Bruins weren't at their best in the first game of the best-of-seven series. Boston lacked the synergy it's had throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs -- because there was a major link missing from the Bruins' lineup.

Without Patrice Bergeron (mild concussion), Boston is a much different team.

"It's been our best player, so it's hard to play without him," said Bruins forward David Krejci. "We've done it before. Who knows, Patrice might be back, but I don't know what the story is. We have to stay positive and just keep going."

Bergeron has no doubt been the team's best player in the postseason, so when he suffered the injury in Game 4 against the Philadelphia Flyers, it was evident his absence would be a factor. That was also clear in the faceoff category Saturday night, as Tampa had a 41-26 advantage.

A bit of good news, however, is the fact he skated on his own Saturday morning for the first time since suffering the injury; he's progressing well and could be back in this series.

"[Bergeron's absence] is obviously noticeable because he's a big part of our team, but we have to find a way to play without him right now," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. "Injuries happen and you have to find a way to play with other guys."

The second major aspect of the Bruins' loss was the continued lack of performance on the power play. Boston went 0-for-4 Saturday and is now 2-for-41 in the playoffs. This series will be determined by special teams, and even though the Bruins' penalty kill is solid, Tampa's highly potent power play did register a goal in Game 1.

It's going to be tough for the Bruins to have success this series without an improved power play.

"We have to focus on it because it could be the difference in Game 2," said Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle.

The two things Bruins coach Claude Julien doesn't like to talk about at the moment is the absence of Bergeron and the team's lackluster power play. He had no choice but to address the PP after the loss.

"I think our execution certainly could have been better on the entry," Julien said. "We had some rims, and at one point the puck went by three of our guys. That's execution, and guys have to be better in those areas and we know that. If we do the job properly, we're going to have success.

"You need the execution to be there and you need the killer instinct. When you have a chance, you've got to bury those things. It's the same with loose pucks. We have to be first on those. Execution and killer instinct is something that needs to be better on the power play moving forward here."

With the lack of production, there was some thought as to why rookie Tyler Seguin wasn't given an opportunity on the power play. When asked about it after the game, Julien looked disgusted and simply said, "No comment."

The third and final reason the Bruins lost Game 1 took less than two minutes to have a negative effect on Boston.

The Bruins allowed three goals in a span of 1:25 in the first period, which was a deficit they could not erase. During that span, Boston had three breakdowns and Tampa capitalized on its chances.

The Lightning's first goal was a reverse behind the Bruins' net and defenseman Dennis Seidenberg lost his stick. As Tampa gained control in front, Seidenberg attempted to kick the puck out from the slot, but wasn't able to and the Lightning scored on Sean Bergenheim's tally at 11:15.

Tampa's second goal came at 11:34 when Brett Clark's backhander beat Bruins goalie Tim Thomas on a shot he should have stopped.

The Lightning took advantage of a bad turnover by Kaberle behind his own net as Tampa's Teddy Purcell pumped in the third goal at 12:40.

"It's tough; we pretty much gave them every single one of them," Kaberle said. "The puck slid off my blade when I tried to move, and those things you have to put behind you.

"I felt good in the first period; I felt like I had good legs, and when you make a mistake, you have to put it behind you. If you think about, it's not going to make it any better."

Even though Seguin notched his first postseason goal while playing in his first playoff game to cut Boston's deficit to 3-1 at 15:59 of the first period, the Bruins couldn't respond.

"It's a tough hole to get out of," Thomas said of the deficit. "A two[-goal deficit] would have been better. I was thinking, when we went down 2-0, I was going to make this like Game 2 against Philly -- I'm just going to hold them to two and we'll come back and win this game. But the third goal was a surprise, a bad bounce, and that made it more difficult."

Of course, players on both teams were asked about the long layoff between the end of the second round and the start of this series, but there are no excuses for the Bruins because the Lightning were in the same situation.

"I think we could have had a better effort," Julien said. "Overall as a team, we're definitely going to need to be better and get a better effort."

This game for Boston was eerily similar to Game 1 of the Montreal series. The Bruins made mistakes and played uncharacteristically then, and they did it again in Game 1 against the Lightning. The Bruins responded in the first round and will need to do so again in Game 2 on Tuesday.

"We knew it wasn't going to be an easy series, but we have to put it behind us right now and focus on what's going to happen on Tuesday," Kaberle said.

Maybe then the building will remain full until the final buzzer.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.