TAMPA — In the third period during Thursday's game against the Stars, the Lightning was forechecking hard in the Stars' zone trying to cut into a 4-2 deficit.
A loose puck appeared to be heading out of the zone, which would have alleviated some of the pressure the Lightning was applying. But Brian Boyle, who was at the left point, took a couple of strides to the center of the ice and was able to reach the puck and keep it in the zone.
Jonathan Drouin grabbed the puck and dropped a pass to Steven Stamkos, who snapped a shot past Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen to pull the Lightning within one. What made the play special was Boyle, who is normally a forward, was on defense.
Tampa Bay dressed six defensemen for the Dallas game but found itself down to four after Victor Hedman was injured late in the second period when he hit his head after getting checked into the boards by Jamie Benn and Nikita Nesterov was given a game misconduct after checking Dallas' Curtis McKenzie from behind moments after the Hedman hit.
Instead of panicking, the Lightning just tapped Boyle, who was playing wing on the fourth line, on the shoulder and dropped him to the blue line. It wasn't an unusual move. Boyle has had to make that transition in the past.
Though Boyle is more comfortable playing either center or wing, he doesn't mind doing whatever he can to help the team.
"If I'm (on defense), hopefully I can do a good enough job where it's not much of an issue," Boyle, 30, said. "Everybody has their preferred positions and positions that they're comfortable with. I usually played center, but I've played a lot of wing this year. Going back on (defense) is another thing I've done in the past. It's not much of a change.
"There's minor reads here and there, but for the most part, I've been coached this long and I try to pick up things. We work on it, and I've been helped by the (defensive) guys. Their communication has helped me out, so it's not been a big transition."
Playing defense takes Boyle back to his beginnings as a professional. Selected with the 26th pick overall in the 2003 draft by Los Angeles, the Kings wanted to make the 6-foot-7 Hingham, Mass., native a defenseman. He spent 30 games with AHL Manchester during the 2006-07 season on defense before the Kings moved him back to forward.
"The offense was there," Boyle said. "I enjoyed having the puck with a little more room. The gap control and the gaps in the neutral zone and some of the transitions (on defense) took me a little longer to get used to. I felt like it was coming along pretty good, but around Christmas time they switched me back to forward.
"But it's a good club to have in your bag. I gained a lot of experience and learned to appreciate (being on defense). It probably made me a better center, too. You realize what the (defense) goes through. It's helpful."
Boyle's time on defense is why he is a solid two-way forward. He has three seasons with double-digit goals, and in the four years he has played in all 82 games, Boyle has always been on the plus side of the plus-minus rating. He was plus-2 in Thursday's 5-3 loss to the Stars.
Boyle will likely be counted on again in that situation the next time an injury happens.
"That's a luxury we have with Brian," coach Jon Cooper said. "On a number of occasions when guys have gone down, he's popped down there and given us minutes. More often than not, they're really good minutes, so it's good to have a guy like that."