In the first period of Game 3 Thursday night, the two Lightning players the Bruins least wanted to see with a scoring opportunity — Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier — broke out for a two-on-one rush.
At the same time, St. Louis and Lecavalier spotted the one Bruin they didn’t want to stare down during the odd-man chance: Zdeno Chara.
“I noticed those two guys were coming at me,’’ Chara said. “At that time, you try and be in the right position and have your stick in the right place.’’
St. Louis, breaking down the left wing, tried to hit Lecavalier with a dish to set up a one-timer for his centerman. But with a quick flick of his 65-inch Easton, Chara busted up the play to snuff out what would be one of the Lightning’s best scoring chances of the night.
“I’m glad I had the stick where I had it,’’ Chara said. “Those guys are pretty good. If you give them too many of those outnumbered situations, they’re going to make some plays. You’ve got to be careful not to give them too much of those.’’
The early sequence in the Bruins’ 2-0 win was hard to overlook for several reasons. First, it was a textbook read-and-react play by the Norris Trophy candidate. Second, had Chara not made the play, Lecavalier would have launched a Grade-A laser to possibly tie the game at 1.
“[Chara] covers a little bit more area than most guys,’’ Adam McQuaid said with a smile. “He made a great read. Great job. Chances like that can be momentum-changers in games. They can be the difference. It was a great play by him.’’
In hindsight, the rush was most memorable because it was rarer than beef tartare. In Games 1 and 2, when the Lightning ripped up the Bruins for five goals on each night, the Tam pa forwards pulled away for rush after rush.
In Game 3, with the Bruins going on lockdown, the dangerous Lightning attackers had little room to breathe in the offensive zone.
“We all did a good job as a group as far as not giving them outnumbered situations, making sure we didn’t get caught down low,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I thought our guys reacted well. By not giving those outnumbered situations, we’re also able to have a real effective forecheck going on. I really like the way our guys were focusing and how they read off each other.’’
Neither Julien nor Tampa Bay counterpart Guy Boucher liked the way their clubs performed defensively in Games 1 and 2. In the Bruins’ 5-2 loss in Game 1, defensive mistakes led to three goals in 85 seconds. A stickless Dennis Seidenberg kicked a rebound to Sean Bergenheim’s blade. A rotten forecheck and soft netminding by Tim Thomas allowed Brett Clark to dangle through three zones and score on a sharp-angle backhander. Seidenberg’s ill-advised decision to regroup and throw a hinge pass to Tomas Kaberle led to a cough-up by the ex-Leaf and an easy tap-in for Teddy Purcell.
Boucher noted that in their 6-5 loss Tuesday, the Lightning racked up more scoring chances in one game than they had all season. All those looks meant squat after Dwayne Roloson was chased following 40 minutes of run-and-gun action.
In Game 3, the Bruins rolled out a near-perfect defensive performance. Thomas stopped all 31 shots, but he gave proper credit to his teammates for limiting Tampa’s sniffs. Leading the charge was Chara, who played his best game of the series. In 28:27 of ice time, Chara squared off mostly against Tampa’s newly formed No. 1 line of Purcell, Lecavalier, and St. Louis. Seidenberg, Chara’s right-hand man, helped neutralize Tampa’s top-line attack.
It was the first time this series that Boucher paired Lecavalier and St. Louis. In the first two games, Steven Stamkos had centered St. Louis and Ryan Malone. By putting Lecavalier and St. Louis together, it made Julien’s job of matching Chara against the pair a little easier.
But that also required Boston’s second defensive pairing of Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk to be thorough against Tampa’s second line of Stamkos between Malone and Simon Gagne. Stamkos had four shots. Malone landed two. Gagne, a Bruins killer as a Flyer last year, was ghost-like in recording just a single shot.
Even Kaberle, one of Game 1’s goats, looked like a defense-first defenseman. Kaberle tightened up in Game 2. He was even better in Game 3, blocking a team-high three shots. Kaberle played only 12:41, of which 3:16 was on the power play. But by simplifying his approach, Kaberle made the most of his even-strength workload.
“I think he’s relaxed a little bit, which has given him some confidence in his game,’’ Julien said. “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. We say it almost every day when we talk about players: It’s about confidence. That word confidence plays big.’’
It was no small bonus that Patrice Bergeron returned for Game 3 and played his usual two-way game. Bergeron won 18 of 28 faceoffs, leading the charge in the Bruins’ 57 percent success rate on the draw. When you have the puck, you’re on the attack, not on defense. For Game 4 today, the Bruins would like little to change.