BOSTON -- As it turns out, the week hiatus before the start of the Eastern Conference finals really didn't seem to change very much at all.
The Lightning's powerhouse line continues to be the one anchored by none other than Sean Bergenheim, who scored his league-leading eighth playoff goal, and the Bruins' power play remains as impotent as ever. Without goal support from its special teams, the Bruins were not able to climb back from a near-instantaneous three-goal deficit early, ultimately falling to the Lightning 5-2 on Saturday night at TD Garden.
As lightning tends to do, Tampa Bay struck quickly, and in a span of 85 seconds midway through the first, the Lightning took advantage of a couple of Bruins mistakes and put three goals behind Boston goalie Tim Thomas. Bergenheim, who opened scoring 11:15 into the game, cashed in on a golden opportunity when he found himself open in the slot with the puck on his stick. It had been kicked there by Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who had lost his stick and was using his skate to clear the rebound. It seemed to be a kick in the pants for Boston, which watched as Tampa defenseman Brett Clark channeled Ray Bourque and went coast-to-coast before flipping a backhand shot by Thomas on the very next shift. A brutal Boston turnover behind the net by Tomas Kaberle less than a minute later created a hole just too deep.
"It takes lots of energy from you [when they score so quickly]," Bruins center David Krejci said. "But you've got to stick with it as a team and go out there on the next shift and try to get it back ... [but] it's really hard to come back from a team like that when they play a lot of defensive hockey."
The Lightning's forechecking system, the now-infamous 1-3-1, makes it exceedingly difficult for teams to come back once Tampa Bay has picked up the lead. In these playoffs, they are 7-0 when scoring the first goal, and this was the sixth straight game that they got the early lead. It was also the third straight in which Bergenheim found the back of the net. The 27-year-old Finn, who just a year ago was lost in the black hole of the New York Islanders system, has scored in six of his last seven games, making a case that he isn't a one-series wonder. Matched with Steve Downie and Dominic Moore, Tampa Bay's third line has been its strongest. They have accounted for 11 of the team's goals this postseason, and with their speed, they've been able to create mismatches.
"They don't get outworked, they just keep on going," Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson said. "It's just like the Energizer Bunny, just keep on going and going and going. With [Downie], who helps them keep pucks in, they keep pucks down low and work hard down there. They create their chances. They create their opportunities. For us as a team, every line has to contribute, and that line has been contributing for us right now."
As for the Bruins, it remains obvious where they will need contribution from as the series moves forward. Despite having the eight days without a game to practice its special teams, Boston turned in an 0-for-4 performance with the man-advantage Saturday night, lowering its playoff power-play percentage to 4.9. It was a struggle for the Bruins to generate sustained pressure in the offensive zone in those situations. During its first power play, the puck was cleared from the zone six times, and the Bruins managed just four shots on net in four power-play opportunities.
"The first [power play] wasn't good at all," Kaberle said. "[But] we had a few chances there. Once, the puck came behind [Roloson]. We just have to focus on it. It could be the difference in Game 2."
It's a wonder that the Bruins even made it to the conference final despite the failure of its power play, and Krejci, for one, thinks the concern over that part of the game is overplayed.
"We're in the conference final. So who cares?" he said, sounding as frustrated as the Bruins look on the power play. "I don't care if we score on the power play or not. We're in the conference final. Look at other teams, they scored on the power play, and they're watching us at home on the couch."
Without a plan to right that ship, however, it may not be very long before the Bruins find themselves in that same position. And it is up to coach Claude Julien to figure out how to revive a moribund unit.
Perhaps that includes giving Tyler Seguin a shot. The 19-year-old rookie, who played just under 10 minutes Saturday, made the most of his ice time with a goal and an assist. He undressed Tampa defenseman Mike Lundin with a nice move in the first period, putting the puck past Roloson, too, to cut the Lightning lead to 3-1. Julien would not comment on whether he had considered giving Seguin a shot on the power play Saturday, but looking at a unit that has scored just twice in 41 opportunities, there seems to be cause for change.