For the past two days, Lightning coach Guy Boucher preached the gospel of structure to anyone who would listen.
All that focus vanished in a first-period flash Thursday night and the consequences could be far-reaching.
A startling gaffe in Tampa Bay's defensive zone only 69 seconds into Game 3 resulted in an early lead for Boston and the Bruins went on to post a 2-0 triumph in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
"It was a breakdown for sure,'' said Lightning winger Sean Bergenheim. "I'll have to watch the film to say any more than that.''
With Bruins forward Milan Lucic in possession of the puck at the right boards, Tampa Bay's Brett Clark found himself blocked off behind an official and fellow defenseman Victor Hedman left the slot area to help out. With center David Krejci suddenly alone in front of the net, Lucic whipped a pass to Krejci, who had plenty of time to deke helpless goaltender Dwayne Roloson for a backhander and a 1-0 advantage that held up before Andrew Ference provided a cushion goal with 11:48 remaining in the game.
"Clarkie got picked a little bit behind the net by the ref,'' said Hedman, whose first of 30 shifts proved eventful. "I was trying to take away a passing lane. We just need better communication there overall.''
Tampa Bay's overall defense improved markedly from Game 2, limiting Boston's odd-man rushes, but the Lightning couldn't overcome the early mistake, despite firing 31 shots at Tim Thomas.
After the setback, Tampa Bay players and coaches acknowledged a lack of coordination — but it was unclear which forward was charged with the responsibility of sliding down toward the slot to cover for Hedman's departure.
"It was just a miscommunication,'' said center Dominic Moore, one of three Lightning forwards on the ice, along with Bergenheim and Steve Downie. "We doubled up on coverage in the corner.''
Moore was asked which forward should have skated toward the front of the net to guard Krejci.
"It can be anyone,'' he said. "It's just a matter of having our structure, making sure we have all the lanes covered.''
The quick lead emboldened the Bruins, who supported each other defensively while handing the Lightning their first home shutout loss of the season. Tampa Bay failed to sustain pressure in Boston's defensive end for most of the evening, and Boucher will undoubtedly stress the importance of a better start for Saturday's Game 4.
The Bruins are 6-0 in the postseason when leading after the opening period.
'"We're supposed to have someone there in front of the net and there was no one there,'' Boucher said. "It's a team thing.''