TAMPA — The scoreboard was bad. The implications were worse.
This was not a loss due to lack of structure. It was not because of penalties, momentum, tempo or inexperience. In other words, none of the usual explanations were apparent in Tampa Bay's 2-0 loss to Boston in Game 3 on Thursday night.
Which means the Bruins were simply the better team.
Somehow, that seems worse than the Game 2 loss on Tuesday night, when the Lightning felt it got away from its game plan. And it seems worse than the early losses against Pittsburgh, when the Lightning was still a team learning how to survive in the playoffs.
It seems worse because it makes you wonder whether Boston is actually the better candidate to make it out of the Eastern Conference final.
"These are the games that we usually play well in," Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said.
"One-goal games, we usually win."
We have already seen the Lightning come back from a bigger deficit this postseason, so we know it can be done.
The difference is Tampa Bay is facing a more complete opponent than a couple of weeks ago when it fell behind Pittsburgh.
"We have to stick to our game plan. We know it works," said forward Dominic Moore. "Some nights, you're not going to get the results."
This was Boston playing the way the Lightning must have feared. It was a team with a smothering defense and a world-class goaltender making a 1-0 score feel like it was 10-0 for the first 50 minutes or so.
If Game 2 had the feel of a bunch of kids playing on a pond, this was those same kids playing on Prozac. It was stops and starts, it was fumbles and flops. It was butt ugly.
By the second period, Lightning players looked frustrated. They made poor passes and silly decisions. They had scoring opportunities that fizzled before the shot.
If not for 20 strong minutes from Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, the game would have been over by the time the puck was picked up at the end of the second period.
As it was, Tampa Bay barely mounted a challenge in the final minutes. There was never the feeling that a comeback was near, there was never the sense that confidence was high.
And now the Lightning is faced with a quandary. It lost Game 2 when the tempo was high and the scoring chances were plenty. Now it has lost Game 3 when the pace was slowed and the defenses were in control.
"Today was more of a playoff game between two teams that pride themselves on playing tight, and that's why we're here. If we weren't like that, we wouldn't be here," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "They played well, and we played just as well.
"It came down to one mistake here and there."
In this case, the mistake came 69 seconds into the game when Lightning defensemen Brett Clark and Victor Hedman both converged on the same player and David Krejci was left standing alone in front of the net.
Boucher would not say whether the mistake was made by one of the defensemen or a forward who was slow to get back in position.
Either way, doesn't it seem a bit concerning that a mistake one minute into a game could determine the rest of the night?
For most of the second period and parts of the third, the Lightning seemed like a team that was unsure of itself. A team that looked out of synch.
"No, no, I wouldn't say we were out of synch," Boucher said. "There's another team in front of us. It's not like we're playing a bantam team that is just going to let us run around and have our breakaways."
The truth is Boston has had the better forecheck. It has been better on faceoffs. And the past two games, Tim Thomas has been a better goaltender than Roloson.
This is not a Pittsburgh team that was offensively challenged. And it is not a Washington team that lacked cohesion.
In this series, the Lightning is not getting away with mistakes.
Against this opponent, Tampa Bay is paying for missed chances.
"I'm not going to use any cliches here," said Marty St. Louis. "We just didn't get the job done."
So is it time to panic? Not yet.
No matter how frazzled you may feel this morning, the world can change again by Game 4 on Saturday afternoon because logic rarely applies in the NHL postseason.
The Lightning may have given up home-ice advantage with this loss, but the team has actually played better on the road (6-2 record) than at home (3-3) in the playoffs.
And if you're worried about momentum, the Lightning went through seven games in the Eastern Conference final and the first five games of the Stanley Cup final without winning back-to-back games in 2004 and still walked away as champion.
Two losses is not the end of the world for the Lightning.
You just sort of wish there was a better explanation.