BOSTON – There's little doubt that the Tampa Bay Lightning couldn't have asked for a better start to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Striking for three goals in an 85-second span midway through the first period Saturday night broke open a developing chess match and sent the Lightning on their way to a series-opening 5-2 victory at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins.
"We couldn't ask for a better result after (nine) days off," said Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis, speaking off the layoff his team had after sweeping the top-seeded Washington Capitals in the second round. Boston had an eight-day layoff after sweeping Philadelphia.
"We wanted to come out and play our game and I think we did that. I thought they came out hard, especially the first three or four minutes. I thought they were skating really hard and making good plays in the neutral zone.
"We didn't get spooked by it. Just kept going at it, kept skating, got our forecheck going a little bit and created some chances. We were opportunistic on those and, obviously, it's a lot easier to play with the lead in this League than trying to chase."
It is also easier playing with a lead in a series in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of the 12 completed series, the team that won Game 1 has gone on to win the series nine times. It should be noted, though, that Boston won its first-round series against Montreal despite dropping the first two games at home to the Canadiens.
In fact, Saturday night's game for Boston looked eerily similar to the Game 1 loss against the Canadiens. Boston made far too many turnovers and saw Tampa Bay block 17 shots and totally suffocated an offense that had scored 10 goals in the final two games of its second-round sweep of Philadelphia.
"It's tough, we pretty much gave them every single one of them," defenseman Tomas Kaberle said of Tampa Bay's three-goal outburst. "We know we are better in here and we have to show it in the second game. You know they are dangerous up front and you have to play in their zone and there is their goalie. We know it is not going to be an easy series."
It was Kaberle, in fact, that may have made the most crucial turnover of all to end that disastrous 85-second run. Standing behind the net, Kaberle watched helplessly as Teddy Purcell swooped in on him and collected the puck after it slipped off Kaberle's stick. Within seconds it was in the back of the net and Tampa Bay had a 3-0 lead.
"Give them credit for pouncing on those opportunities and capitalizing," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "That's part of their game."
The red-hot Sean Bergenheim opened the run at the 11:15 mark of the first period when he took advantage of a turnover at the blue line and then another in the defensive zone by the Bruins to claim a loose puck in the slot and slam it home past an unsuspecting Tim Thomas. Bergenheim now has a playoff-best 8 goals. He had just 14 goals in the regular season.
But, Bergenheim's tally was only the beginning of the carnage. Nineteen second later, Brett Clark scored on a sweet rush from his own end, one that was capped by a backhand shot that fooled Thomas.
Then, Purcell scored for the third goal in 85 seconds and Boston was spooked, forced into its timeout as the Bruins tried to gather themselves.
"It's a tough hole to get out of," said Thomas. "Two would have been better. I was thinking, when we went down 2-0, I was thinking I was going to make this like Philly Game 2, I'm just going to hold them to two, and we'll come back and win this game.
"But the third goal was a surprise, you know, bad-bounce goal, and that made it more difficult. But having said that, it was 3-1 in the second period, and if we could've won one period at a time, we're still in that game."
Rookie Tyler Seguin, in his first playoff game, playing in place of the injured Patrice Bergeron – ruled out by a concussion suffered in Game 4 – scored the Boston goal that made it 3-1 late in the first period. But, Boston just couldn't generate anything else In the game despite carrying play for long stretches of the final two periods.
"I mean we had a good start I think," Boston defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "We got the pucks deep, we created chances off of it. We just didn't find the net this time. But again we know what we have to correct for the next game, and we look at it again (Sunday)."
In the third period, Tampa Bay got goals from Marc-Andre Bergeron, on the power play, and Simon Gagne, into an empty net to make it 5-1. Chris Kelly, on an assist from Seguin, scored a cosmetic second goal for Boston with 61 seconds remaining in the game.
Now, the focus turns to Tuesday’s Game 2. And, as Boston insisted after getting over the shell shock, the Bruins will likely deliver a far better effort, an effort representative of a team that had won 8 of 9 games before Saturday night.
At least that is what Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher is expecting.
"They're a really good team," he said. "They came out hard. They're going to come out harder the next game. I'm expecting (Patrice) Bergeron to be in the lineup. I know Tim Thomas is going to make miracles. I'll be shocked if he doesn't come out with his best game of the playoffs.
"They got a lot of pride. They came back in the first series from two games. I mean, it's only one game. We've done nothing yet."