Flash in the plans
Thomas’s brilliance derailed Tampa Bay
TAMPA — If you take away the defensive breakdown at the beginning of Thursday night’s Game 3, the Lightning played the way they wanted.
They were structurally sound, responsible in their zone — with the Bruins’ second goal coming through a screen — and goaltender Dwayne Roloson was solid.
If that’s the good news, it’s also the bad as the Bruins and Lightning head into today’s Game 4 at St. Pete Times Forum.
The Bruins executed their game plan to a T and until the Lightning find a way to get more traffic in front of Tim Thomas, their Stanley Cup dreams will be thwarted.
“He’s a terrific goaltender,’’ said Lightning coach Guy Boucher. “He’s hard to beat when he sees all the shots, and when he doesn’t see those shots he’s still very quick to [find] where the puck is, he tracks it really well. Whatever we’re going to do, it’s going to be very hard to beat him.
“Obviously, if you want to beat a goaltender of that caliber, you need a lot of shots, you need a lot of scoring opportunities. You can prepare all kinds of plays to beat him, but he’ll stick something out — a pad, a glove, a helmet. He’s extremely hard to beat.’’
The Lightning did a poorer job of storming the Bruins’ net than in Games 1 and 2. Boston’s defense gave Tampa’s top forwards little room to maneuver.
“We were slower,’’ said Boucher. “We are a team that is used to driving the net extremely hard. Guys are relentless, usually, going to the net and having their sticks heavy there and fighting. We weren’t as good in that respect. We were better defensively except for one or two big mistakes.
“The rest of the game we did very well. It looked like a neutral-zone battle, which both teams weren’t going to fail at. It becomes a battle deep in your zone and deep in their zone. That’s why we’re expecting a tough series until the end.’’
One area in which the Lightning have fallen off in the last two games is faceoffs. It didn’t help that Patrice Bergeron, an outstanding faceoff man, returned to the Bruins’ lineup in Game 3. Bergeron won 18 of 28 faceoffs (64 percent), and David Krejci was even better, winning 13 of 18 (72 percent). For the Lightning, Vincent Lecavalier won only 36 percent (9 of 25), Dominic Moore was 6 for 15 (40 percent) and Steven Stamkos was 4 for 7 (57 percent).
“We did a great job the first game,’’ said Boucher. “The second game, they did a better job than us, but the guys who had done well in that second game seemed to have done not so well for us [Thursday]. It’s a battle, like the rest of the game. You’ve got some good faceoff guys on both sides. It’s our job to make sure we get [the percentage] at least closer to 50 and work our way after that.’’
Defensively, it doesn’t help the Lightning that one of their best shot blockers is ailing. Nate Thompson was struck in the right leg by a Zdeno Chara shot in Game 2. Thompson played 15 minutes, 46 seconds of Game 1, then dropped to 12:27 in Game 2 and 12:08 in Game 3. Although he is sore, the Lightning expect him to be in the lineup this afternoon.
Much of the talk at the rink yesterday was about how Game 4 is a must-win for the Lightning.
“It’s always a must-win,’’ said Boucher. “It’s a must-win because it’s the beginning of the series, it’s a must-win if you didn’t win the first game, it’s a must-win because it’s 1-1 or 2-1 for the opponent. It’s do or die every game, but it’s four out of seven and one of these teams has to win four. It’s not two and it’s not three.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.