But most of the things they were doing to create those goals went missing Thursday night as Thomas stopped all 31 shots he faced in Boston's 2-0 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Lightning showed little of the offensive zip that had characterized their play in the first two games at Boston.
"Offensively, I don't feel that we paid the price," forward Martin St. Louis
said. "I think we have in the past couple of games. ... We just didn't get the job done."
Both teams wanted to be better defensively after Boston's wild 6-5 win in Game 2, but the Bruins were able to clamp down on the Lightning offense. Few of those 31 shots were of great quality, and Thomas made the few big stops he needed to preserve the lead after Boston went ahead on David Krejci's goal 69 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Just as Tampa Bay has done to teams this postseason when it had the lead, Boston was able to play a near-flawless defensive game to protect the advantage."I think tonight's game probably resembles a lot more of what I think everybody expected from this series -- two teams that make it hard for you to score," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We made some stronger plays, some better decisions and seemed a little bit more aware out there of what was going on."
Added Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher: "Today was more of a playoff game between two teams who pride themselves on doing well defensively and playing tight. That's why we're here. If we weren't like that, we wouldn't be here."
The Lightning typically generate offense from their defense, preying on turnovers by the opposition and counterattacking. Boston was able to control the tempo of the game by limiting those turnovers.
Tampa Bay had lots of odd-man opportunities in the first two games, but the Lightning created little off the rush this time. The Bruins didn't create a whole lot of offense -- but with the luxury of playing with a lead, they didn't have to.
"They were doing the same as us," Boucher said. "We were both limiting each other's transition game. I think last game, their team and our team moved the puck pretty quick and guys were gone, and so I think we're both aware of each other's strengths offensively. Obviously you don't want to give the other team any freebies, so we didn't give them any freebies and they didn't give us any freebies, and that's why it was a tight game. It was down to who was going to make that one lethal mistake and we made it early."
By limiting Tampa Bay's transition game, Boston forced the Lightning to look for offense in other places. They forced the Lightning to dump the puck into the offensive zone far more often. That played into Boston's advantage in size and physical play -- the Bruins were able to win more of the battles along the boards. Tampa Bay's forwards also found it much tougher to navigate the area in front of Thomas.
"We didn't challenge [Thomas] enough, in front of him," St. Louis said. "They weren't quality chances. We've got to make Thomas' job a little tougher."
On a night where defensive responsibility ruled at even strength, the best chance for the Lightning to break through was probably on the power play. Tampa Bay had the best extra-man proficiency in the League this postseason after Game 3, but the Lightning's power play also looked a bit off on its three opportunities.
After two games with plenty of offense in Boston, the first contest at St. Pete Times Forum was a dramatic shift for both teams. Both coaches were pleased with their defensive efforts.
Improved defense was the focus before Game 3 and now the quest for more offense in Game 4 will begin for Tampa Bay.
"We've passed the first and second round of the boxing match now, and we kind of felt each other, and now I think both teams are back to what they normally do," Boucher said. "So it's going to be some tight games, and the next game is coming up I don't expect anything else."
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer