By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Theoretically, the Boston Bruins were supposed to come out with their hair on fire on Wednesday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.. That is generally how good teams respond after losing a playoff game — look no further than Tampa Bay’s effort in Game 2. especially when they’re returning to touch home ice for the first time of the series.

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But the Bruins had anything but a strong start in this Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We didn’t start the way we needed to at all,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the Bruins suffered a 4-1 loss in Game 3.

Ondrej Palat scored on Tampa’s first shot of the night, which came on an impromptu 2-on-1 after Boston D-man Matt Grzelcyk completely lost track of a puck he had just cradled with his hands on a dump-in.

“I thought maybe it went behind me so I just took my eye off the puck,” Grzelcyk explained. “Obviously not the way you want to start a game. It was tough bouncing back after that.”

It was a bad mistake, but it was one that Cassidy didn’t think was bad enough to sink his team’s chances for the evening.

“It’s not good, obviously. But we’ve come back a lot,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been a team, I think we’ve given up the first goal and won maybe 18 games this year. So this is nothing new. You’ve gotta play through that. It doesn’t help, it gives the other team a boost, but you’ve still got 50-something minutes left. The crowd, there’s going to be a lull, but you gotta go and get it back.”

The Bruins, though, didn’t get it back. Instead, they gave up another.

Just a minute-and-a-half after the first goal, Palat streaked to the front of the net to redirect a Victor Hedman shot, and the Tampa lead doubled. The game was not even four minutes old, but the Lightning had scored their game-winner.

Though Patrice Bergeron would score to cut that lead in half with under six minutes to play in the opening period, the positive feelings didn’t last long; Anthony Cirelli scored off his own rebound two minutes later, with Kevan Miller having a front-row seat.

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The Lightning offense is explosive in its own right — it doesn’t need any help. But despite their best efforts, the Bruins were all too willing to offer their assistance.

“We need to defend better, and part of that is intensity in my estimation,” Cassidy said. “Urgency, pick your word. We didn’t have it. You’ve got to manage the puck first, and then once you don’t have it anymore, you have to have a certain level of structure and urgency to get it back. And we didn’t.

That first period included penalties on Riley Nash (interference) and Charlie McAvoy (roughing) on plays where there was no doubt about the calls. The Lightning couldn’t capitalize on their power plays, but the Bruins lost four minutes of attacking time in a quest to atone for their mistakes.

After the opening 20, the Bruins had themselves a mighty hole to climb out of, and they did their best. They controlled play for the opening 10 minutes of the middle period, but had nothing to show for it. Then they went back to an old staple from Game 2 by going more than eight full minutes without registering a shot on net. Tuukka Rask (33 saves on 36 shots) did what was necessary to keep the game within reach, but the Bruins weren’t generating enough quality scoring chances to take that needed step forward. Torey Krug (holding) and Brad Marchand (slashing) each took an undisciplined penalty, too, which worked to kill any momentum the Bruins might have been building.

They broke that shotless stretch with a harmless point shot by Grzelcyk, and the Lightning happily took a two-goal lead into second intermission.

The effort wasn’t lacking in the second period, nor was it lacking in the third period. But Tampa played with a lead, blocked 19 shots, got enough out of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and by the end of the night earned a thorough 4-1 win after an empty-netter scored by Steven Stamkos.

“As the game went along, I think the will is there with the group. I don’t doubt that,” Cassidy said. “They’re trying to play physical, they’re trying to play hard, but at the end of the day we made some mistakes in front of our net. We’ve got to get back to what makes us successful and play smart hockey, and the intensity will come. The group has a lot of will. I think we put one in front of the other and forgot to play a little bit.”

Now the Bruins trail 2-1 in the series and really can’t afford to lose in Game 4 when the series resumes on Friday night. Falling behind 3-1 before heading back to Tampa would likely be a death sentence for their season. They’re going to have to hit the ice with a lot more energy and focus, so they don’t end up losing before the game ever really begins.

“Same as always. Playoffs are desperate hockey,” rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy said about the urgency level heading into Game 4. “You don’t ever go into any game saying we have the luxury of being able to lose this one. That’s not how it goes. We want to win every single game, and we need to prepare better, and we will. We need to make some tweaks to make sure that we’re going to bring it to them. Felt like they brought it to us tonight. And we will. We will. We’ll be fine. We’re still a confident group in here, like always. We’ve won a lot of hockey games this year, and there’s no reason that we shouldn’t be able to win a couple more.”

As the Bruins learned in a hard lesson on Wednesday night, they won’t be able to afford any early lapses against a team as good as potent as the Lightning.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.