"It was a tale of two games," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following the loss. "For 35 minutes, they had their way with us. And probably the last 25, we had our way with them."
Tampa Bay took control as the game wore on but not until falling behind 2-0. By then, the deficit was too much for the Lightning to overcome.
Mitchell Stephens scored his third goal of the season at 17:28 of the second period, getting hit in the stomach by Tyler Johnson's shot, finding the loose puck at his feet just outside the blue paint, turning and shooting past Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask to the get the Lightning on the board and cut Boston's lead to 2-1.
The Bolts continued to pressure the Boston net and had a number of near misses in search of the tying goal. In the end, the NHL-leading Bruins were able to pack it in defensively just enough to keep the Lightning from finding the back of the net a second time.
Tampa Bay now drops nine points behind Boston in the chase for the Atlantic Division crown with time winding down in the regular season.
Here's how it went wrong for the Lightning against Boston.
Video: Barclay Goodrow on the Bolts loss to the Bruins.
1. THE GOAL THAT WASN'T A GOAL
After going down in the final minute of the first period when Torey Krug made a heady pass onto the back post for Brad Marchand to tap into the net, the Lightning thought they'd leveled the score roughly five minutes into the second period when Yanni Gourde unleashed a slap shot from beyond the right circle and found a seam past Rask.
The goal came against the run of play as Boston had controlled the game to that point. To get the game-tying goal in that situation would have been a much-needed shot of momentum for the Bolts.
Except the goal didn't count.
Boston challenged the play, claiming the Lightning were offside before entering the zone. A review of the play showed Tyler Johnson's skate had just crossed the line before Zach Bogosian was able to carry the entire puck over the blue line and into the zone before dishing off to Gourde.
The offside was extremely tight. There was only the tiniest sliver of puck left on the blue line by the time Johnson's full skate was in the zone. It was an impossible call for the linesman to make in real time.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, video review showed the infraction, and the goal was taken off the board, the Bruins still owning a 1-0 lead.
"You try not to let it affect you, but obviously it sucks," Stephens said. "I think we responded well. We got pucks below their goal line and changed our attitude a bit."
The Lightning went down 2-0 about five minutes later when Jake DeBrusk outraced Bogosian to a puck at center ice, fending off Bogosian's flailing, desperate dive trying to knock the puck away, taking a penalty in the process, and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy on a breakaway for what would prove to be the game-winning goal.
At that point, however, the Lightning started to control play. They focused on getting pucks deep into the offensive zone and relentlessly forechecking to create scoring opportunities. They hemmed the Bruins into their own end for much of the duration and applied plenty of pressure to Boston's net.
But other than Stephens' scramble goal late in the second, the Lightning couldn't generate enough while in the zone to make their possession time count.
"We definitely were trying to make them come 200 feet, and earlier in the game we were turning pucks over," Cooper said. "We weren't driving pucks deep. It was just too many one-and-dones. As we got a little more gritty in our game then things started going better for us."
Video: BOS@TBL: Stephens cleans up rebound in front
2. MORE MISSED OPPORTUNITIES
Besides Gourde's overturned goal, the Lightning had several other scoring chances throughout the second half of the game but came up empty on all of them, save for Stephens' goal in the second.
Anthony Cirelli had a breakaway and a chance to tie the game on his stick but didn't get off his best attempt and was denied by Rask.
Cedric Paquette had a beauty of a chance from the slot after the Lightning forecheck jarred the puck loose behind the Boston net and Yanni Gourde spotted Paquette all alone in front. Paquette's shot, however, missed the net high.
In the third period, Erik Cernak blistered a shot from beyond the right circle that clanged off the post and bounced away.
Despite firing just 21 shots on goal, the Lightning had plenty of looks to tie the game up.
They just couldn't cash in.
"They do it a good job keeping you to the outside," said Barclay Goodrow, who earned his second point in four games with the Lightning after providing the second assist on Stephens' goal. "I think for the first half of the game, we were trying to make that extra play. I think as the game went on, we kind of realized our offense is going to come off the forecheck. I thought we created a lot in the third period. It was kind of a tale of two different games from the first half to the second half."
Tampa Bay's defense was stingy too, particularly over the final 30 minutes. But Boston was able to capitalize just enough on its limited chances to escape AMALIE Arena with the win.
"We did a lot of good things," Victor Hedman said. "They got a lot of shots, but they were slicing pucks from all over the place. Vasy made some saves but a lot of stuff that we liked, especially for that second half of the game."
Video: Cooper on Bolts 2-1 loss to league leading Bruins
3. BLOCK PARTY
After the game, Jon Cooper remarked he'd never seen a scoresheet where one team takes 21 shots and the other team blocks 21 shots.
The Lightning had a hard time finding a way past the Boston player in front of them, the Bruins doing a superb job throughout the game of getting in shooting lanes and forcing the Lightning to the outside for the majority of their shot attempts.
While the Bolts possessed the puck for pretty much the entirety of the third period, they weren't able to generate enough at the Boston net, racking up just seven shots on goal for the period.
"Is that a product of Boston or is that a product of us? Probably a little bit of both, but you've got to get pucks to the net and we just didn't do it," Cooper said. "We were too slow in our approach. We get some pucks in some good areas and we would just shoot them into guys. That was the big thing for us, especially in the third period, you can stand up here and say geez, we possessed the puck the whole time, had them on their heels. In the end, we only had seven shots on goal. We did a lot of good things, we just didn't finish when it started getting close. We've got to be better at that."
Nikita Kucherov didn't register a shot on net and had four attempts blocked, the Russian right winger seeing his seven-game point streak come to an end. Braydon Coburn was seemingly the only Lightning player able to find a way around the block. He finished with five shots to pace the Bolts and didn't have an attempt blocked.
The Bruins defended the Lightning expertly on Tuesday. They kept most of the Lightning's shots to the outside. They got in shooting lanes when they could to block shots away. They didn't let the Lighting's top scorers get any good looks. And they made life easy for Rask, who had to make just 21 rather routine stops.
They have a really good defensive team," Stephens said. "That's probably why they're one of the top teams in the league. I think we have a good team in this locker room. Now we just need to regroup. That was a really good test for us. Regroup tomorrow at practice and focus on the next one."