Boston came out flat and was dominated by the Lightning in the first period of Monday's Game 5 at the Garden. But some stellar goaltending from Tim Thomas kept the damage to a minimum as the Bruins trailed just 1-0 despite being outshot 14-4, and Boston was eventually able to shake out of its lethargy to post a 3-1 win and take a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference final.
"Right off the bat, we've got to be a lot better," Bruins forward Mark Recchi said at the team hotel after arriving in Tampa on Tuesday. "The first period was not our hockey club. Give Tampa Bay credit, they came out to win. Timmy gave us an opportunity. He shut the door and got a little life in the second period, and basically after that it was an even hockey game."
Recchi saw the slow start as a combination of some nerves by the Bruins and a strong road effort by the Lightning, who promise to be even tougher when facing elimination at home in Game 6 on Wednesday.
"I think we had a little tension," Recchi said. "For whatever reason, I think we were a little bit nervous about the game. But then we settled in. After that start, we kind of settled back into our game, which was nice, and it was basically an even game after that. We were fortunate to find a way to win. We got away with a bad period. We realized it and we just went from there.
"We know we got away with one last night," Recchi added. "At the same time, we found a way to win. We're going to have to be a lot better in Game 6 if we expect to finish this series."
The Bruins know they need to get better from the start. Even though they rallied to win in Game 5, they know they can't afford to wait until the second period to show up again on Wednesday.
"Especially in their building, they're going to come out hard," Bruins forward Rich Peverley said. "I think the first 10 minutes is going to be key. They play really well at home. If we can get a lead or just hold them to a tie in the first period, I think we'll give ourselves a chance."
A fast start was the key to both clubs' success in the first two rounds of the playoffs. In Boston's series with Montreal and Philadelphia, the team scoring first was 9-2. In Tampa's series with Pittsburgh and Washington, the opening goal led to a win in 10 of the 11 games.
But that trend hasn't held true in this round. Just twice in the first five games has the team scoring first gone on to win. The Bruins provided the most dramatic collapse, blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 4, but they also overcame the Lightning's early strike in Game 5.
"Both teams have scored early first and not won the game, so it's been interesting that way," Recchi said. "Both teams don't have any quit in them, which is a great thing. They keep their composure and stay with their game plan. You've got to play full 60's or you'll see what's happened to both teams with leads in this series."
Despite the struggles to maintain leads at times, the Bruins still would rather be playing from ahead on Wednesday as they try to close out the series. And they certainly want to put in a better effort from the opening faceoff after Monday's disappointing first period.
"I think we've been accustomed to having some decent starts and I think last game wasn't one of those," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We still were able to hang on and eventually give ourselves a lead, but I think we know we can play better than we did last night. And that's the positive you can take out of a win, knowing that we're a team that plays better than what we showed.
"So we are going to need that effort tomorrow if we plan on winning the hockey game because they are going to play with desperation. They are a good team. We've said that all along. They are a dangerous team offensively. They create a lot of opportunities. Even if you play well defensively, they are going to find ways. So we have to be on top of our game tomorrow."