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Defense made an appearance in the Eastern Conference Finals Thursday night. After scoring a combined 18 goals in the first two games of the series, the Lightning and Bruins played a little closer to the way we expected. Only two shots found the back of the net, both to the Bruins advantage to give them the 2-0 win and a 2-1 series lead.
Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup for the Bruins and logged just over 19 minutes of ice time. The story before the game was Bergeron’s return, but after that it was all about Tim Thomas. He stopped all 31 shots he faced to weather the storm and shut out the Lightning after he allowed nine goals in the first two games.
“That felt more like a normal game,” said Thomas. “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.”
For the third straight game, it didn’t take very long for one team to get an advantage on the scoreboard. Just 1:09 into the first period, Bruins center David Krejci had a nice catch and control on the pass from Lucic and buried a sweet backhand.
The early goal would be all the Bruins needed in the tough defensive battle. Tim Thomas stopped a flurry of shots about midway through the first period to let everyone know he was on top of his game. He stopped 10 shots in the first period.
In Bergeron’s return, he played steady as you’d expect. He was strong at the faceoff dot as usual, winning 18 of 28 faceoffs.
“You could see the difference he makes,” said coach Claude Julien about Bergeron’s return.
Later in the third period, Andrew Ference added the insurance goal to all but lock things up for Boston. With Chris Kelly setting a nice screen in front of the net, Ference took a shot from the point that trickled through Dwayne Roloson’s legs.
Rookie Tyler Seguin was credited with the goal briefly, but Ference ultimately got all the glory. Seguin was held pointless for the first time in his brief three-game playoff career.
Tampa Bay couldn’t answer in the final minutes and now Boston is only two wins away from their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since the 1989-1990 season.
Both teams had a commitment to defense in Game 3. They both avoided “run and gun” hockey and both goaltenders were outstanding. Roloson had 23 saves and Thomas blanked not only the top scoring team in the playoffs, but the two postseason points leaders (St Louis, Lecavalier). Both goalies entered the series as the two best at their position in the playoffs so far and in Game 3, they proved why.
“Both goalies made huge saves,” said Dennis Seidenberg. “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.”
Boston will try to take a commanding 3-1 series lead Saturday afternoon. With a win in Game 4, the Bruins will be the closest they’ve been to the Prince of Whales Trophy since they swept the Washington Capitals in the 1990 Conference Finals.
Follow Brian Moller on Twitter: @Brian_Moller