TAMPA, Fla. -- The Boston Bruins find themselves two wins away from the Stanley Cup finals after a 2-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals Thursday because of the willingness of every player to sacrifice for the team and do whatever is necessary to win. In Game 3, there were two prime examples of that on and off the ice.
On the ice, Milan Lucic battled through a foot injury for the second straight game (after missing the morning skate again); assisting on the team's first goal, by David Krejci; and playing one of his best games of the playoffs.
Up in the press box, veteran winger Shawn Thornton watched his team shut down a Lightning team that had scored 10 goals in the first two games of the series. Thornton was a healthy scratch with center Patrice Bergeron returning and rookie Tyler Seguin (six points in the last two games) making it impossible for coach Claude Julien to take Seguin out.
Thornton's understanding of the greater good and Lucic's grit were just the latest examples of how this team sacrifices for each other.
"I think we've had a core group of guys here for a number of years, including the coaches and the staff, that has set the attitude around the locker room," defenseman Andrew Ference said after the game. "That's why you see our younger guys, and we expect a lot of them because we don't treat them like young guys, we treat them like our teammates.
"We're not a team of talking big about buying in; we just buy in. We all believe that actions are a little more powerful than talking about it, and we have a lot of characters here that the GM has assembled that know that. There's a reason why certain teams continue to have success; it's about buying in."
Earlier in the day, Thornton sat in his locker-room stall after the morning skate and addressed a group of reporters. As the scrum veered away to the next available player, Thornton was asked what could be a sensitive question for a proud veteran who works hard every shift. How would he feel about being the healthy scratch to accommodate Bergeron's return?
"I think whoever it is, if [Bergeron] is back -- and I don't know if he is -- we've got a good group of guys here and this time of year, it's not about the individual anyway," Thornton said. "It's about the greater good, and whatever happens, the guys will be in full support of it. Anytime you can get a guy like Bergy back in the lineup, it's good.
"If it is me, it's not the first time; I've been through it before. I'll do my job and stay sharp like Tyler did. It's part of the game. I was scratched in Anaheim that time we won the Cup and they don't ask how many games I played, just if I have a ring."
Ironically, Seguin credited Thornton for his instant playoff success after being a healthy scratch in the team's first 11 playoff games, and now Thornton was a healthy scratch in large part because of Seguin's performance.
"I remember a specific time Shawn Thornton came up to me," Seguin said after his four-point night in Game 2. "It was the beginning of the second round and he just came up to me and said, 'Look, kid, if we're going to the Cup, you're going to get an opportunity to play, just because injuries are part of the game. Have fun with it. Enjoy the ride. Take it all in and use it as a learning experience.'"
To Thornton, that is just part of his job as a leader in the dressing room. The veteran credited the rookie for putting his advice to good use.
"I knew there would be a chance for him to get in, and I didn't do it; he's the one who stayed ready, so it's all on him. I just whispered something in his ear," Thornton said when asked about Seguin's comments. "It's more a tribute to his attitude and work ethic when he was sitting out."
But as Lucic pointed out, that is what makes a leader like Thornton so valuable, even when he isn't playing.
"I've had the pleasure of playing with him since we came into the organization at the same time, and he's never going to complain or feel sorry for himself in a situation like that because he knows his role, and I think that makes him who he is," Lucic said of Thornton. "He's still going to be upbeat and vocal before the game, and that's a huge part of him, getting that feeling going in the room. He's done that since I've been here."
As Krejci pointed out after the game, Lucic is displaying the same presence on and off the ice, and that was in full effect in Game 3, as the winger who scored 30 goals in the regular season brought his game to another level.
"When he's at his best, that's what he is, and that was one of his best games," Krejci said of his linemate. "That first goal doesn't happen without him. He made a nice pass and he was all over the ice all night. He was huge on the forecheck, and he played a very strong game.
"I can't say enough about him. He's a great guy and I like him a lot. He's a great player and we've got good chemistry together and with [Nathan Horton]. I'm just happy to play with these two guys."
It is very clear, as Ference pointed out, there is a sincere respect and willingness to sacrifice for one another among the Bruins. That is why with two more wins, the Bruins will be playing for the right to do what Thornton's sacrifice helped the Anaheim Ducks do in 2007 -- hoist the Stanley Cup.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.