In Game 4 on Saturday in Tampa, the Lightning were dominated in the first period, fell behind early and found themselves forced to kill off a pair of penalties at the start of the second period. They survived all that and rallied for five unanswered goals to even the Eastern Conference final at two games apiece.
Monday night at TD Garden, the Bruins were the ones back on their heels at the start, as Tampa scored on its first shot of the game and continued to control play throughout the opening period. They couldn't extend the lead any further, though, not even with a pair of power-play chances early in the second, both coming on interference penalties to Nathan Horton.
Horton atoned for those miscues with a goal to tie the game just 17 seconds after the Bruins killed off his second penalty. Brad Marchand added his first point of the series for the go-ahead goal in the third and the Bruins were perfectly happy with a far from perfect effort as they took a 3-1 win to move within one victory of the franchise's first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals since 1990.
"As a whole, when you look at the game itself, it wasn't our best game," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "But you know, sometimes it's about finding ways to win, and that's what we did tonight, without maybe playing our best game. So we need our best game next game if we plan on winning that one."
Once again, the Bruins were able to show some resiliency, bouncing back from what could have been a devastating loss when they blew a 3-0 lead in Game 4.
"We learn from our mistakes, I think that's part of being a good team," forward Chris Kelly said. "Learning from those mistakes, parking them and moving forward. Obviously last game we did that. I thought we did a much better job of continuing to play even though we got the lead."
Kelly earned the coveted Bruins windbreaker for his efforts in the game, which included one penalty kill shift that lasted nearly the full two minutes of Tampa's power play.
Boston needed those kinds of efforts, as the Lightning threw everything they had at Boston, especially in the opening period. Simon Gagne finished a 2-on-1 break 1:09 into play for a quick 1-0 lead, but that was the only shot Tampa would get past Tim Thomas, even though the Lightning outshot Boston 14-4 in the first period and 34-20 for the game.
"You always try to take the positive out of things, and only being down by one after being outshot by a large margin was not the best scenario, but it's a scenario we'd take and move forward," Kelly said.
Patrice Bergeron, who set up Marchand's game-winner, praised his club's ability to make the most of the chances it did create while weathering the Tampa attack.
"It just shows some character and obviously we were opportunistic on our chances," Bergeron said. "Obviously we didn't have that many shots. But I thought we did a better job at having traffic in front of them. We found a way, but still it's got to be better."
Despite Saturday's setback and the slow start in this game, the Bruins never got down on themselves.
"It's how it has to go right now," forward Daniel Paille said. "It was nice to see that we were down 1-0, but we didn't get too low on ourselves. We came back here, realized we needed to get batter and came out and capitalized in the second period."
In many ways, the Bruins were in their element with another tight, low-scoring game. While some teams might panic in such a nail-biter, these Bruins seem to thrive in such pressure situations.
"I think we all enjoy playing [close games]," Kelly said. "It seems that we don't like the lopsided games. We like the close ones. Everybody's playing, everyone's involved and focused. Personally I love the close ones.
"Maybe some nights you're at your best," Kelly added. "Not every night are you going to have your best. I don't think it's lack of effort or lack of will. Just some nights the puck bounces the wrong way, or you overskate it or you're not there when you should be. But I think if the mindset is in the right place, you're going to be successful."
The Bruins weren't at their best on this night, but they found a way to be good enough. And that was good enough to put them one win away from a trip to the Cup Finals.