The true Boston Bruins have finally shown up in the Eastern Conference Finals.
We finally got the type of game we all expected when the matchup of the Lightning and Bruins was determined.
We expected Tim Thomas to be sensational, for goals to be at a premium and for special teams to be critical.
Dwayne Roloson was solid for the Lightning, but he wasn't as great as Tim Thomas. When the Lightning defense broke down early in Game 3, Roloson committed too quickly on David Krejci and was left helpless as the Boston forward transferred the puck and flipped easily over a sprawled Rollie.
Of course, it certainly didn't help that Victor Hedman abandoned his post and no one touched Krejci for a good six to 10 seconds. Krejci had time to read the Boston Globe in front of the net.
"Clarkie (Brett Clark) got picked a little bit behind the net by the ref,'' Hedman told the Tampa Tribune,"I was trying to take away a passing lane. We just need better communication there overall.'
The second goal was just a really bad goal let in by Roloson.
When the Bruins defense broke down, Thomas made the save. Every...single...time.
After the final horn sounded, Steve Downie fired an angry shot at the Bruins goal and Thomas saved that one, too.
We knew Thomas was good enough to steal at least one game in this series—Game 3 was that game.
Tampa Bay, sans for a few defensive lapses here or there and a penalty filled second period, controlled play most of the night and outshot the Bruins 31-25, including 15-5 in the final stanza.
But the Bruins did a fantastic job of allowing Thomas to see all the shots. They jumped on any rebounds preventing any second chance shots for the Lightning.
Once the Bruins had that first goal, it was clog the neutral zone and limit opportunities. The Lightning, mindful of the need for structure, played right into the hands of the Bruins.
After a pond-hockey start to the game that allowed the Bruins to net an early goal, Tampa Bay fell back into their structure. While Boston did a terrific job at limiting the opportunities—there were chances for Tampa Bay, they just couldn't finish.
"As the game goes on, he keeps making saves, feels better about himself and is gaining confidence." Lightning forward Martin St. Louis told the St. Pete Times, "We've just got make his game a little tougher and we didn't do that. Chew on it for 10 minutes and get back to work."
Saturday's matinée may decide the series. The Lightning have rallied back from a 3-1 series deficit already once in these playoffs, but that was against the injury depleted Penguins.
Winning twice in Boston, three straight overall is a tall order for the Lightning.
Tampa Bay must even the series and send it back to Boston at 2-2.
To do that, they need to make sure they get on the board first and take advantage of their power play opportunities.
The Lightning scored 10 goals in the first two games, so the shut out should not shake their confidence too much. However, the longer they allow Thomas to have a goose egg on his side of the scoreboard, the tougher it will be to get that first goal.
Tampa Bay must also eliminate the defensive lapses and get a more consistent effort out of Roloson.
The Bruins have momentum and are finally playing the way they're comfortable. The Lightning need to make them uncomfortable in Game 4 or hopes of a shot at the Stanley Cup could slip away.