Bruins Vs. Lightning: Boston Uses Full Team Effort To Earn Game 3 Victory, Series Lead

TAMPA, FL - MAY 19: Tim Thomas was superb in net, earning his second career playoff shutout as the Bruins blanked Tampa to take a 2-1 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals

It wasn't just Patrice Bergeron. Or David Krejci. Or Tim Thomas. Or Claude Julien. No, the entire Boston Bruins team put in a combined effort on Thursday night as they took a 2-1 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Patrice Bergeron returned to the Boston Bruins' lineup Wednesday night, but from the looks of things, it didn't seem that he'd missed a single shift.

Bergeron won the opening faceoff at center ice, setting the tone for the rest of the evening, where Boston would dominate play in the neutral zone, receiving timely goaltending from Tim Thomas and bookend goals from David Krejci and Andrew Ference to roll to a 2-0 win and a 2-1 series lead.

Bergeron's return from a concussion was the pregame story, but the postgame one centered around the Bruins' top-line center. Krejci's six goals in seven games are a career-best, adding five assists for 11 points since the start of the conference semifinal series with Philadelphia. More remarkable than the production has been when he's done it, though; four of the six goals have been game-winners.


Complete Coverage of Bruins vs. Lightning Game 3

Let the "Bruins would have beat Philadelphia with Krejci in the lineup last year" talk commence. It may have been, but Krejci didn't win the game Thursday night. Team defense did.

After the Bruins allowed ten goals in the first two games, the defense came out angry and focused, getting in front of Tampa's attack, forcing them to the outside and allowing Thomas to see the puck very clearly.

"I think the biggest difference was that we got men back," Thomas stated after the game, subtly noting that which even the youngest of defenders on frozen ponds are taught. "We played a good road game," the Bruins' netminder - who earned just his second career postseason shutout - allowed.

It's saying something, for a team that's now 5-1 in these playoffs when they don white sweaters instead of black ones. Before the game, head coach Claude Julien had noted that "no doubt the road has been a place for us that has been very successful," before going on to credit Tampa for challenging Boston in Games 1 and 2.

"The team that we are playing tonight was one of those teams as well. And you saw the kind of challenges they gave us and hopefully we can give them those kind of challenges in their own building."

Boston was able to do just that, but on a night when Bergeron returned, Tyler Seguin stuck in the lineup and Shawn Thornton took a seat in the press box, it was the defense that took center stage, not the new-and-improved offense that the team had featured over the past six games (28 goals).

Boston's blueliners took it to Tampa in the neutral zone, causing the Lightning to rack up offsides calls attempting to gain the zone, and utilizing strong D-to-D passing to frustrate the Tampa 1-3-1 forecheck, gaining their own offensive zone with little to no trouble throughout the night.

In a series and against a team in which the defensemen have to stay up in the attacking zone and aren't allowed to really get into the offensive cycle, the Bruins defenders have still found ways to get pucks to the net from the point, contributing two-plus of the team's ten goals (Nathan Horton got credit for the team's first goal Tuesday night, but it was Dennis Seidenberg's shot that got the puck there).

Julien's taken a lot of flack over his time in Boston for being unwilling to make adjustments, unwilling to shuffle lines and unwilling - even incapable - to adjust on the fly. After burying Seguin in the press box for the first two series of the postseason, Julien was forced to bring him onto the ice when Bergeron got hurt. When the 2010 OHL player of the year had a goal and an assist in his first career playoff game, Julien was still reluctant to give him a chance on the team's abysmal power play. When he exploded for two goals in five-plus minutes in the second period of Tuesday night's game two, Julien quickly inserted him on the second power play unit, where he assisted on a Michael Ryder goal on his first shift out.

The funny thing is, after Tampa out-witted and out-executed Boston in the two teams' first meeting back in November, Julien adjusted, and the next time the two teams faced off, Tampa's 1-3-1 was hardly noticeable as the Bruins won, 8-1.

So it's not that Julien's incapable of making adjustments. Maybe he's slower to come around, but he knows what he has in his locker room. And while Guy Boucher was busy being asked about who was to blame for Krejci's goal ("It's a team game, and I'm not going to name anybody," was the methodical response), Julien was answering questions about the play of his Bergerons and Thomases with "I liked the fact hat we had our four lines that were pretty stable and pretty good for us and pretty reliable" and "I think it's really tonight one of those games where you want to spread the credit around."

As in so many playoff series, subplots abound in this one. Bergeron's return, Simon Gagne's return, Seguin's emergence, the battle of two once-thought-over-the-hill goaltenders, the simple presence of Krejci, Tampa's all-star offense, the list goes on.

Neither head coach wants to single any of their players out, but suddenly one of them is in a position where, if he doesn't, his team might be on the outs.

After all, when it comes down to it, hockey's a team game. It matters less who's on the ice and more what those who are do while out there.

The past two times out, Boston's done a little bit more, and a little bit more has been enough to win. But as the Bruins know, the hardest games to win are still ahead.

That, of course, goes both ways. 

Read more on the Eastern Conference Final at our Lightning vs. Bruins series hub. Get local coverage on the Bruins at SB Nation Boston and Stanley Cup of Chowder. Get local coverage on the Lightning at Raw Charge and SB Nation Tampa Bay.

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