TAMPA — Is it possible Lightning players were too pumped up before Monday night's playoff game with the Penguins?
They certainly gave the idea credence after a 3-2 loss in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"Is it possible? Yeah, it's possible," wing Marty St. Louis said. "You can't let your excitement get you away from the game plan. You have to channel your energy and really be patient. That's how you win games."
And here is how you lose a physical game in which there were 68 hits — including nasty ones by Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz and Tampa Bay's Steve Downie — and fall behind two games to one in the best-of-seven series:
You hear a sellout crowd of 20,545 raising the roof and banging rally drums after an on-ice, 3D video display that celebrates the first playoff game at the Times Forum in four years, and you want to reward them with a good show.
Instead, a defenseman tries to make a big hit at the wrong time that creates a two-on-one on which a goal is scored, the goaltender whiffs on what seems a nothing shot and you fall behind 2-0 6:31 into the first period on goals 45 seconds apart.
"It's almost like you have to be under-prepared when you come into an emotional crowd like that," goalie Dwayne Roloson said. "Once the game starts, they usually pick you up.
Give the Lightning credit. The second of Marty St. Louis' two power play goals tied the score 2-2 2:12 into the third period.
But 31 seconds later, Tyler Kennedy poked a puck past Roloson after Dominic Moore lost a defensive zone draw to Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal and Roloson, jostled he said by his teammates trying desperately to get to the rebound, lost track of the puck.
Still, it was that first period that irked the Lightning and coach Guy Boucher most because they said they spoke before the game about managing emotions.
"We talked about it to make sure we had our emotions in check," captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "It's good to work hard, but you have to work in the right way."
Funny thing, Boucher said, the huge hit Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund threw on Arron Asham, while an adrenaline rush, might have had an unintended consequence.
"That big hit happens and everybody has their eyes on it," he said.
"Maybe you get too excited," left wing Simon Gagne said. "You maybe want to be a little more physical and you get out of the game plan. From then on it's not the way you want to play."
And Pittsburgh capitalized.
Max Talbot's 53-foot wrist shot beat Roloson on the short side 5:46 into the game. Roloson said the puck hit a stick and dipped.
At 6:31, defenseman Victor Hedman went for a hit on Michael Rupp at the Lightning blue line, but Rupp went past him, sparking a two-on-one that ended with Asham scoring from the right post as Roloson had no chance.
"I hit the puck and just wanted to finish the guy and maybe lost him too much," Hedman said. "I have to take the rush and stay cool and don't go for the big hit."
"It's an emotional game," Boucher said. "We talked a lot before it happened about not playing our game."
And they didn't, at least in the first period.