TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - Goaltending and defense finally prevailed and the Boston Bruins took full advantage.
Tim Thomas made 31 saves for his first playoff shutout this season and second overall, Andrew Ference and David Krejci scored, and the Bruins beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 on Thursday night to take a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
``Tonight's game probably resembled a lot more of what I think everybody expected from this series, two teams that make it hard for you to score,' Bruins coach Claude Julien said. ``I thought our team was very good in regards to that. We made some stronger plays and better decisions and seemed a little bit more aware out there of what was going on. Comparing it to last game, where I thought it was pretty sloppy, I thought we bounced back well.'
Thomas and Tampa Bay's Dwayne Roloson entered the series as the top two playoff goalies this season. And then, surprisingly, the teams combined for 18 goals in the first two games.
``That felt more like a normal game,' Thomas said. ``That felt like the game we played most of the season. Playoffs are always faster and more energy and a few more scoring chances than a regular-season game, but that was Boston Bruins hockey.'
The Lightning scored five times in both earlier games, but a lack of traffic in front of Thomas helped prevent an encore performance.
``Offensively, I don't feel that we paid the price,' Lightning right wing Martin St. Louis said.
Ference made it 2-0 at 8:12 of the third on a shot from the point that trickled between Roloson's legs and into the net.
``We're not a team big on talking about buying in, we just buy in,' Ference said.
Game 4 is Saturday in Tampa.
``It came down to one mistake here and there,' Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. ``Their goaltender is still going to be great and ours, too. It's going to come down to those, one little detail that will make the difference.'
Boston got a lift with the return of Patrice Bergeron after he missed two games because of a concussion sustained when he was hit by Philadelphia's Claude Giroux in the final game of the second round.
``I thought I stayed pretty positive in the process,' Bergeron said. ``It's behind me. I'm looking forward.'
While Bergeron did not add to his two goals and 10 assists in 11 playoff games this year before the injury, the alternate captain made his presence felt on faceoffs, winning 18 of 28.
``You could see the difference he makes,' Julien said. ``I really liked the way he played. His line was definitely better, and that certainly helped us.'
``He's back and he definitely made a difference for us, like he always does and like he has been this whole playoffs,' Thomas added. ``He's been one, if not, the best player on our team.'
Bruins rookie Tyler Seguin, who had three goals and three assists in the first two games, was held off the scoresheet. After sitting out the first two rounds, the 19-year-old Seguin was inserted into the lineup to replace Bergeron in Game 1 and has seven points overall.
Krejci was alone in the low slot and opened the scoring on a backhander just 1:09 into the first. Boston is 7-0 during the postseason when scoring the first goal of the game.
``Getting the first quick goal definitely helped the whole team, and not just sitting back in the third, but going out and getting that second goal made us able to stay relaxed and calm throughout the whole game,' Thomas said.
Krejci was briefly shaken up late in the first when he was hit in the neutral zone by Tampa Bay defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron, who received a minor penalty for elbowing.
Tampa Bay center Steven Stamkos had three shot as the Lightning outshot Boston 10-8 during the first. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara made a nice defensive play during the period to break up a Tampa Bay 2-on-1.
Thomas made a strong save in the first on St. Louis' shot from the low right circle. The goalie stopped 15 shots in the third.
``They played good defensively and Thomas played good when he had to,' Stamkos said.
Roloson finished with 23 saves.
``Both goalies made huge saves,' Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. ``This just felt more normal. I think both teams got more towards the type of game they wanted. I think it was a lot more typical and expected from us.'
Notes: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman attended the game. ... Tampa Bay D Pavel Kubina didn't play and hasn't resumed practicing. Kubina has been out since the first game of the conference semifinals against Washington when his head went into the glass on a hit. ... Bruins LW Milan Lucic played with a sore right foot and had an assist. ... Krejci has six goals and 11 points over his last seven games.
The Associated Press News Service
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