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Six questions facing Bruins, Lightning in Game 4

by Shawn P. Roarke and Corey Masisak /
TAMPA -- Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals raised almost as many questions as it answered.

Boston won Thursday's game, 2-0, with a dominating effort that shows the Bruins are almost impossible to beat when they score first. It also reaffirmed that their patient -- sometimes plodding -- game is ideally suited to playing on the road.

We also learned that the return of Patrice Bergeron, out almost two weeks with a concussion, is an incredible calming influence on these Bruins. His two-way play really helped Boston slow down what had been a track meet in the first two games and make sure it was played at a more favorable pace for the Bruins.

On the Tampa Bay side, we learned that they can play a more structured game in their own zone. They were far more committed to their structure in Game 3 and limited Boston to far fewer chances than in the 6-5 loss in game 2. This time, however, Boston was far more opportunistic.

We also learned that Tampa Bay, like most teams, is more comfortable with the lead. Thursday was the first time in eight games that the Lightning did not score first. Instead, it was David Krejci who scored just 69 seconds in, forcing the Lightning to chase the game the rest of the night. It was not a position in which the Lightning appeared comfortable.

But after three games of this series, there are still a ton of questions remaining. Here are six of the biggest ones heading into Saturday afternoon's Game 4.

1. Will Boston avoid the trap of looking ahead?

The Bruins believe they will, despite being just two wins away from making the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1990. This, they say, is a veteran team that knows the future is not guaranteed, but must be earned. It is a lesson learned from the misery of Game 7 losses in each of the past three playoff campaigns.

"We haven't accomplished anything yet," said Patrice Bergeron, who returned from a concussion in Game 3. "We're still far away from our goal. It's only about the next game and we will worry about that."

2. Has Boston figured out Tampa Bay's vaunted 1-3-1 trap?

It sure looked like it Thursday night. Boston played an impeccable game in the neutral zone, chipping pucks in when nothing else was available and then getting in heavily on the forecheck to regain possession of the puck. Not only does that philosophy give Boston more time in the attacking end, where it can wear down the Tampa Bay defense, it also negates Tampa Bay's quick-strike counterattack.

The Lightning had precious few odd-man rushes in Game 3 and regularly had to travel 100 or more feet to gain the blue line and set up offense.

"When we chip it in, we got it in deep," forward Daniel Paille told "They are so good at those quick turnovers, they have three guys waiting and it kind of puts us against the wall. It was nice to see us fix that and see our guys get that puck in every time we got it."
3. Has defenseman Tomas Kaberle found his game?

The perennial whipping boy in Boston seems to have sorted out many of his problems in the past two games. In Game 3, he played perhaps his best game of the postseason. Although the power play did not score Thursday night -- after getting two goals in Tuesday's Game 2 -- Kaberle showed real chemistry with youngster Tyler Seguin on the man-advantage. He also blocked a couple of shots in Game 3 and took hits to make plays in his own end.

"I think he's played really well in the last couple of games," Boston coach Claude Julien said Friday. "He's a good puck mover. He can play a pretty good game when he's on top of it. And we have confidence in him. And I told him that, that we know he can certainly help us. I think he's relaxed a little bit, which has given him some confidence in his game. And I think the last two games he's been a better player. He's passing. He's more poised. He's a little bit more aggressive. And he's not sitting on his heels. And I think that's made a big difference in his game."

4. Where did the Tampa Bay offense go?

The Lightning did not look like a team that created scoring chances almost at will against the Washington Capitals in a four-game sweep and again in the first two games of this series. Boston prohibited them from turning defense into offense with smart plays and strong defensive positioning.

Tampa Bay players also pointed to the lack of traffic near goaltender Tim Thomas as a big problem. Bruins defenders did an excellent job of shielding Thomas from potential problems on screened shots and rebounds.

5. What are the keys for getting it back?

There are three areas where the Lightning definitely need to be better. One is the first pass after Boston dumps the puck into the Tampa Bay zone. The Lightning were not nearly as crisp with their puck retrieval and those one or two quick passes to catch Boston on the counterattack. Too often the Lightning allowed the Bruins to set up their own defensive system in the neutral zone.

The second area is on faceoffs. Tampa Bay controlled the circle in Game 1 and it frustrated the Bruins, who like to rely on their ability in that department to dictate the flow of the game. A third problem in Game 3 was the power play. If this series continues to be this tight, special teams will be even more critical than normal and the Lightning have to be better with the man advantage than they were Thursday night.

6. Is this a must-win game for the Lightning?

No team wants to fall behind three games to one in a series, but it is even worse for the team in Tampa Bay's situation. A loss Saturday would mean the Lightning face elimination on the road in Game 5. It would also mean they need to win three straight, including two at TD Garden.

That's not an enviable task, especially considering how raucous the Boston crowd might be with its team one win from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 21 years. That said, Tampa Bay has already survived a 3-1 deficit, coming all the way back against Pittsburgh in the opening round and winning twice at Consol Energy Center to do so. Being able to pull off such a comeback twice in one postseason would be an incredibly tough task. It might not be a must-win game for the Lightning, but it is pretty close.

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