Bruins squander chance to take control
For 20 minutes, the Bruins were in complete control.
They forced the Lightning into mistakes and capitalized for a 3-0 lead at the end of the first period.
But there are 60 minutes that have to be played, and the Bruins didn't bother to show up for the final 40. Tampa Bay rallied for five unanswered goals to take a 5-3 win in Game 4 at the St. Pete Times Forum on Saturday. Instead of heading home with a 3-1 lead and a chance to close out the series, the Bruins now find themselves deadlocked at 2-2 in an Eastern Conference final that is anything but over.
"We didn't play at all like we played in the first period," Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. "We battled really hard in the first. We were doing everything right that we had to do. They just wanted it a lot more than we did in the second. I think we might have taken it for granted and it bit us in the butt.
"It's such a bad feeling," Marchand added. "We had them on the ropes. We had the game under control and we let it slip away. We should easily be up 3-1 right now, so it's very frustrating that we let the opportunity slide. But we have to let it go and make sure we're ready for the next game."
In the first period, it was the Lightning making the costly mistakes, with Patrice Bergeron cashing in with a pair of unassisted tallies sandwiched around a Michael Ryder goal.
"We just gave them, again just like the previous game in the first period, we gave them three gifts, three turnovers," Tampa coach Guy Boucher said. "And they're a very good team. They capitalize on those. And it's our job to make sure those are out of the way for the next game. But if you know that you've got legs, and you've got ammunition, you just stick to it because eventually it should pay."
It was the Bruins who paid in the second, getting away from what had made them successful in the first as they sat back and got sloppy. Tampa killed off a Bruins power play to start the period, then struck for three goals in 3:58 to tie the game.
Like the Bruins in the first period, the Lightning did an excellent job of taking advantage of the opportunities Boston gave them. But the Bruins saw this defeat as more of a case of them giving it away than Tampa taking it.
"I think it was us, what we didn't do," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We followed our game plan, did exactly what we were supposed to do in the first. Then in the second we let up and that's not our game. We talked all year about playing for 60 minutes and we didn't do it tonight.
"It's mental," Seidenberg added. "You have to stay focused for the full 60 minutes. We didn't do that. We played very well for the first 20, but came out not focused in the second and turned too many pucks over and they scored three goals on us. In the third, it was kind of too late. We played a little better, but still not the way we're supposed to."
Simon Gagne finally put Tampa ahead at 6:54 of the third, taking advantage of another costly turnover as Ryan Malone picked off a Milan Lucic pass at the blue line and led a counterattack that Gagne finished with a shot from the slot. It was the second time in two years that Gagne capped a comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins in the playoffs; he also scored the game-winner in Game 7 for the Flyers last spring when Philadelphia not only overcame a 3-0 deficit in the series, but Boston's 3-0 first-period lead in that seventh game.
"It was huge," Gagne said of Saturday's win. "We had no choice but to win that one. We didn't want to go into Boston down 3-1. We did it against the Penguins [in the opening round] but at this stage of the playoffs we're facing a better team, a more balanced team. We knew that game was a must win."
The Bruins looked like a better team briefly on Saturday, but that façade fell away quickly as their effort evaporated in the final two periods.
"I would call it probably more we just lost our focus here," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We played really well in the first period not because of what the score was, but we did the right things. And we took that lead. The message was pretty clear. We had to continue playing the same way, but somehow we started getting stretched out again. They started getting speed. They started getting momentum. And after they scored a few goals, we almost looked like we were paralyzed out there. Just weren't reacting, weren't moving, and just snowballed from there."
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas was even more blunt.
"We got outworked," Thomas said. "Somehow they took over. They took the play to us. They started getting scoring chances and we stopped getting scoring chances."
The Bruins won't have a chance to close out the series at home on Monday, but they haven't lost their hold on the series yet. It's now a best of three, with two of those games scheduled at the Garden.
"We just have to let this one go," Marchand said. "We can't worry about it. We can't change it. Game 5 is going to be a huge game. We have to make sure we're ready. They're going to come back flying in our building. We have to make sure we're ready for them."