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Win vs. Bruins is template Lightning wants to follow

The Lightning rids itself of a lot of bad habits in Tuesday's victory against its Eastern Conference rival.
Creating traffic in front of the net was just one of the many things the Lightning did right Tuesday vs. the Bruins. 
 (Dirk Shadd, Times)
Creating traffic in front of the net was just one of the many things the Lightning did right Tuesday vs. the Bruins. (Dirk Shadd, Times)
Published Apr. 5, 2018
Updated Apr. 5, 2018

TAMPA — The way the Lightning forechecked. The way it moved the puck out of the defensive zone. The way it did not turn the puck over. The way it forced turnovers. The way it limited scoring chances. The way it created scoring chances.

If you built a template for how the Lightning should play in the postseason, it would look like Tuesday's 4-0 win against the Bruins.

"That's what we've been trying to get across the last couple of months, so it was good to see it," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "It came at the right time. Now it's important that we continue that style of play going into next week."

The Lightning's play was the result of all the defensive work in practice, all the yelling from Bowness and coach Jon Cooper when the drills went awry, all the harping on the little things were meant to weed out the bad habits that seeped into the Lightning's game.

Among those bad habits: It held on to the puck too long, which increased the chance of a turnover. It made the extra pass, and maybe another one after that, which allowed scoring chances to evaporate. Instead of forcing its opponent to scramble to defend the Lightning's speed and skill, it was slowing itself, doing the other team's defensive work for it.

Tuesday, all that went away against the team the Lightning is chasing for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We played a better 200-foot game," Bowness said. "There wasn't nearly as many east-to-west turnovers that just slowed us up and killed our attack. We worked a lot harder for 60 minutes; we stayed with it."

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Now the question is can the Lightning keep up this style of play in the postseason?

"I think so," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "I think the other night was a great step, for sure."

It was not as if the Lightning found a new way to play. That blueprint is the one it used to climb to the top of the conference standings this season. It is the Lightning's game.

"When we get into a little bit of trouble is when we start deviating from the game plan and trying to change things up, trying to make plays when they're not there, start turning the puck over," Girardi said.

It does not matter how much talent you have on the ice, Girardi said. If you allow the other team enough odd-man rushes, you are going to give up goals. That was not an issue against the Bruins because each Lightning player followed the game plan.

"I think that was a pretty complete game for us from top to bottom," Girardi said. "Everyone was pulling in the same direction, nobody going off on their own page. (It was) everyone playing together for 60 (minutes), and you see what we can do."

"We did what we wanted to do," forward Tyler Johnson said. "That's how we have to play in the playoffs to succeed."

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The Lightning begins regular-season-ending back-to-back games Thursday against the Sabres and Saturday at Carolina, teams not going to the playoffs. Tampa Bay's postseason seeding depends as much on how it plays in those games as it does on how the Bruins fare in their final three, which began Thursday against the Panthers.

Girardi said the Lightning has to play against the Sabres and Hurricanes the same way it did against the Bruins.

"It doesn't matter where they are in the standings. We need to play the same way against everyone," he said. "I think that's where we get into trouble the last month or two, getting up for the big games, then letting down in the other ones.

"We're up and down. We're not playing the same way the whole time. As long as we can follow that effort up from Boston, we're going in the right direction, for sure."

Slap shots: Bowness said the status of Steven Stamkos (lower body) had not changed Thursday. He was still listed as day-to-day, which meat he might play in one of the two remaining regular-season games or he might rest until the playoffs begin next week. … Bowness said decisions on whether to rest other key players in the final two games would be based on what the Bruins did Thursday against the Panthers.

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.

Thursday

vs. Sabres, 7:30, Amalie Arena

TV/radio: Fox Sports Sun; 970-AM