- James Murphy, Bruins reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The Eastern Conference finals have shifted to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4, with Game 3 on Thursday night and Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. If the Bruins want to build on the momentum from their 6-5 win in Game 2 on Tuesday night and take their first lead in the series, they need to follow these three keys to success at St. Pete's Times Forum:
Don't be satisfied, and tighten up the defense. Yes, Boston won an exciting and dramatic Game 2, as Tyler Seguin thrilled fans with his electrifying four-point performance. Yes, the Bruins exploded for five goals in the second period and got two power-play goals in the game. But they also veered away from their structured game plan, and their defense suffered as a result. They proved they can hang in in a game of what Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher termed "pond hockey," but with all that speed and offensive firepower on the Lightning, the Bruins can't expect to win another game of shinny.
The defense needs to tighten up and start playing more physical as the Lightning forwards penetrate the zone. It needs to be stronger on the boards and, most importantly, needs to clear Lightning forwards out in front of the net and make life easier for Tim Thomas. There have been too many scrambles and rebound chances in front of Thomas in this series, and the Bruins can't expect Thomas to save the game all the time -- as he had to in the third period of Game 2, when the Lightning scored two unanswered goals and turned a 6-3 Bruins lead into a 6-5 nail-biter.
The Bruins have shown that, when they play as a unit, they can clog up the neutral zone and eliminate the opponents' first outlet pass. That was key to their success in shutting down the Flyers' attack in the Eastern Conference semifinals. If the puck does get into the Bruins' end, though, the Bruins must play a tough, physical brand of hockey and not allow bodies to roam free in front of or behind the net to set up scoring opportunities.
Don't look ahead or behind. One of the Bruins' biggest strengths this season has been the ability to isolate each game, not looking ahead or behind and not getting too high or too low. They did a good job of not dwelling on the 5-2 loss in Game 1 and now they must not get too high heading into Game 3. They can't think about what the game means in terms of the series or that if they win Game 3 and then possibly 4, they can head back to Boston with a 3-1 series lead and a chance to clinch at home in Game 5. For now, the focus must be on Game 3 and only on Game 3.
"Honestly, I know it sounds cliché and we say it all the time, but I really do just take it a game at a time," forward Shawn Thornton said. "You can't think about 'what if' or 'what could be.' You just live in the moment and the now. I think that's why we're still playing. We've done a great job of practicing what we preach and maintaining that even keel. That's how we need to keep approaching this."
Thornton is right. If the Bruins had let the magnitude of trailing 2-0 in the series with Montreal weigh on them, they wouldn't have come back and won that series in seven games. If they had let their failure to close out the Flyers in a sweep in the 2010 Eastern Conference semifinals haunt them, they might not have been able to finish what they couldn't last spring and sweep the Flyers this time around. The Bruins need to stay even-keeled and just worry about winning Game 3 right now.
Continuing with this theme, the Bruins also need to remind Seguin and themselves that things aren't always going to come as easily or go as smoothly for the 19-year old rookie as they did in Game 2. The Lightning know what he can do now and will focus more on him. That means they will hit him more and try to wear Seguin down. Seguin needs to be prepared for this.
Continue to improve on the power play. Don't look now, but the Bruins' power play has scored four times in the past three games. With two goals in Game 4 of the series against Philadelphia and then two goals in Game 2 of this series, they're 4-for-47. The Bruins finally appear to have something going on the man advantage; if they want to advance further in the playoffs, they will need to improve their power play even more.
Instead of trying to look for that perfect play and passing the puck around until they find that play, the Bruins are taking chances when they present themselves and finding a way to get pucks to the net, with players in front for rebounds. Their net-front presence was a huge factor on both power-play goals as they made it hard for Dwayne Roloson to see the puck. Nathan Horton's tip-in of a Dennis Seidenberg blast from the point was the perfect example.
"That's huge when we have that traffic in front and get shots through," Seidenberg said after the game. "It just makes it tougher on the goalie and allows scoring chances."
Coach Claude Julien liked that traffic in front as well as a bevy of things the Bruins were doing right on the power play.
"I think it had to do with a lot of things," Julien said Wednesday afternoon of the power-play success. "I think we were moving the puck better, we shot it more and we had better net-front traffic and we just seemed to be more determined as a group. We talked before the game that we felt it was important for us to win the special-team battle against a team that is really good in regards to that. And it was a big challenge for us, and our guys responded well. Yeah, our power play was better, and if we can continue to play like that, it will help us a lot."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPN.com.