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Lightning have been 'relentless' on forecheck against Bruins

Tampa Bay's speed, puck management has given it momentum ahead of Game 4

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

BOSTON -- All it took was 10 seconds for the Tampa Bay Lightning to reclaim control of Game 3 on Wednesday. It was 10 seconds of aggressive forechecking, exactly what has frustrated the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Second Round.

"Relentless," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

 

[RELATED: Cirelli 'Mr. Reliable' for Lightning | Complete Lightning vs. Bruins series coverage]

 

Bruins forward David Backes won a defensive zone face-off back to defenseman Kevan Miller, who collected the puck in the corner and turned up ice with 3:27 remaining in the first period, not long after Patrice Bergeron's power-play goal cut Tampa Bay's lead to 2-1.

Miller looked up and saw he had Lightning forward Alex Killorn coming at him to stop the breakout. Miller was in trouble, as the Bruins' defensemen have been a lot in the series.

"When you take time and space away from anyone it makes it more difficult," Killorn said. "We want to meet the puck when it gets to that corner and that's what we've been doing."

Miller didn't have an outlet, so he attempted to move the puck up the wall. It ended up on Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh's stick in the neutral zone, who sent the puck back in, hitting forward Yanni Gourde with a pass in stride at the blue line for a 3-on-2 rush.

Gourde then passed to Anthony Cirelli in the slot, who had enough time to make three shot attempts, including a whiff on his first, before he scored off his own rebound with 3:17 remaining in the first period to extend the Lightning's lead to 3-1.

Video: TBL@BOS, Gm3: Cirelli chips home his own rebound

Tampa Bay leads the best-of-7 series 2-1. Game 4 is at Boston Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS).

"We focus a lot on utilizing our speed and when we can do that it's given teams trouble all season long regardless of who you're playing," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "We have some very quick forwards that can hound the puck, that can make good reads."

The Lightning have been doing it all series, even in Game 1, which Tampa Bay lost 6-2 not because it didn't forecheck well enough to win the possession battle, but because it didn't defend well enough on the instances when it didn't have the puck.

The Lightning have controlled 57.14 percent of even strength shot attempts, down more than seven percent (64.53) after Game 3 because the Bruins were chasing the game after Ondrej Palat's two goals in the first 3:19.

Yet, Tampa Bay still had a 21-16 advantage in even strength shot attempts in the first period and 18-7 in the final 13:05 of the second period. The Bruins early push in the second period resulted in 15 shot attempts in the first 6:43, but only four were on net.

Video: TBL@BOS, Gm3: Palat nets two quick goals in 1st

"The big thing for us is once we're skating, we're finishing our checks and then we're getting above them, trying to beat them back," Cooper said. "When you do that, you're just shortening the ice for them to not be able to make plays.

"The guys are checking with their legs, not their sticks."

Boston says it has fed into it by being too slow on breakouts, especially when Tampa Bay is sending two players in on the forecheck.

"Maybe closer support from the centerman [is necessary]," Bruins forward David Backes said. "We have to have quick, short support but if you break that pressure, now they've only got three left and if you can catch them trying to finish a hit and spin off, maybe you have a 'D' joining and you get an odd-man rush."

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said there are also times when the wingers coming back to give that support are trying to change to their strong side instead of staying on the wall closest to them. That extra time is giving the Lightning a chance to pounce on them, to be in their face.

"They're working to get back on their own wings and by that time the puck is rimmed and now their 'D' is there and now we're in 'D' zone coverage," Cassidy said. "It's a read for them, too, to sort it out."

It is, but the Lightning are making it difficult by doing the basics well. They're putting the puck behind the Bruins' defensemen and making them turn into the forecheck, creating the chaos that leads to turnovers and, in the case of Game 3, momentum-swinging goals.

"We've done a tremendous job of managing the game, managing the puck," Stamkos said. "I think that's why we've had success."

***

 

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