THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Bob Ryan

It’s not hard to categorize this defeat

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By Bob Ryan
Globe Columnist / May 22, 2011

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TAMPA — There are Losses, Bad Losses, Very Bad Losses, and Catastrophic Losses. This being Florida, and therefore hurricane country, we might label them as Categories 1, 2, 3, and 4.

I rate this one a 3: Very Bad Loss.

And we in Boston know from Category 4’s. You have a 3-0 series lead, you lose Games 4, 5, and 6, and then you lose Game 7 after going up, 3-0. Can’t get much more Category 4 than that.

So, it could have been worse. Yesterday’s disturbing 5-3 loss to the Lightning was indeed very bad. Any time you fail to hold a three-goal lead after one period is a bad thing in the National Hockey League, and the ramifications are significant when losing the game makes the difference between going home with a chance to close out the series and thereby reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990, and going home tied, 2-2, and knowing you must make another trip to Florida for Game 6.

Yet losing this game wasn’t the end of the world, even on a day when many believed we really were going to experience the end of the world. (You’re reading this, so I’m guessing we didn’t.) Losing meant a series many experts expected the Bruins to lose in the first place was tied at 2-2. You think Messrs. Jacobs (two of them), Neely, Chiarelli, and Julien wouldn’t have taken that when the series started, especially after Game 1?

For perspective, I offer the thoughts of Lightning forward Ryan Malone.

“Now, it’s best two of three,’’ he said. “Nothing’s been accomplished.’’

Ah, but wouldn’t it have been nice to hold that juicy 3-0 first-period lead? It was certainly an attainable objective, at least until the game did a 180 about seven minutes into the second period, when the Lightning scored. And scored again, a minute and three seconds later. And scored again 2:55 after that.

That adds up to three goals in 3:58, and you might say it was a slight momentum shift.

What happened?

“We got outworked,’’ observed Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas. “They took over. They took the play to us. They started getting scoring chances and we stopped getting scoring chances.’’

Well, yes, that we noticed. But why?

“It was a perfect first period,’’ said Patrice Bergeron, who entered an exclusive club by scoring a pair of unassisted goals in that opening 20 minutes. “Then we stopped doing the things that gave us that first-period success. We sat back.’’

From the mouth of youngster Brad Marchand we learn the following: “When you’re up, you almost sit back a bit. You think that the game is over, and that’s what we did. We thought we had them. We took it for granted.’’

That’s worth an “ouch,’’ wouldn’t you say?

You could see and feel the change long before Teddy Purcell scored the first of two quick goals that got the Lightning back in the game.

“I would probably just call it losing our focus,’’ said Claude Julien, who, as any good Bruins fan knows, has seen this curious second-period malaise overcome his lads more than once this season. It’s just difficult to fathom how any team can fall prey to this syndrome in Stanley Cup play, but it happens.

For a brief period, Claude’s worst nightmare reappeared.

“The game was getting ‘stretched out,’ ’’ he said.

That’s code for saying there was too much up-and-down hockey. He had seen all he needed to see of that stuff during that aberrant Game 2, even if his team was fortunate to win the type of game he said his team seldom wins.

Yesterday’s game was indeed out of hand for a spell during Period 2, and the home team proved to be far more adept at handling it than the visitors.

A goal making it 3-1 should not have been so telling. Sure, it got the St. Pete Times Forum crowd of 21,216 back into the game, but the benefits should have ended there. That, however, was not the case.

“It was almost like we were paralyzed out there,’’ said Julien. “Just weren’t reacting, weren’t moving, and [things] just snowballed from there.’’

The paralysis to which Julien referred was as much mental as physical. Sloppy passes leading to turnovers can speak as much to concentration as to heavy legs.

Whatever momentum the Bruins had taken from the first period was gone for the remainder of the afternoon.

The Lightning have established their capacity for explosiveness twice in this series. They hit the Bruins for the first three goals of the series in the span of 1:25 in Game 1. Yesterday, they hit the Bruins with two in a shade over a minute and three in just under four minutes.

And as far as their resilience goes, they came back from a 6-3 deficit at the end of the second period in Game 2 to create a harrowing finish for the Bruins and their fans, and they casually scored five unanswered goals after trailing, 3-0, in Game 4.

So, if the Bruins are fortunate enough to get a lead of two goals or more tomorrow night, it would behoove them to regard the game as far from over.

However we got here, we are 2-2, and it all makes sense. There are no super teams in the 2010-11 NHL, just a lot of pretty good ones with some potentially fatal flaws. The Bruins are good, but they are also vulnerable. We probably should have known they had a Category 3 loss in them sometime.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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