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Tara Sullivan

Yes, the Bruins lost. But when the goal is a Stanley Cup, good losses aren’t a bad thing.

Linus Ullmark (32 saves) takes a hit from Lightning center Ross Colton as Brandon Carlo tries to help during Thursday's loss in Florida.Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

The final, frantic shot came off the sublime stick of David Pastrnak, turned away by Andrei Vasilevskiy with five seconds left in the game. The clock ticked down, and the victorious Lightning skated into a 3-2 victory celebration at the Bruins’ expense Thursday.

An 11th straight home victory for Tampa Bay, the end of a six-game winning streak for Boston, and only the sixth regulation loss overall on this crazy-good Bruins season. Yet as disappointing as those facts may sound in the moment, there exists in sports such a thing as a good loss. And for the Bruins, who long ago made it clear this season is about so much more than regular-season records or the Presidents’ Trophy, the outcome of Thursday night’s game was secondary to the level of play displayed within.


The Bruins need games like this one, fueled by rivalry and emotion. Did you see Connor Clifton pummel Corey Perry after taking an unwarranted first-period elbow?

The Bruins need games like this one, elevated by high-level play on both ends. Did you see Pastrnak’s stick work on the Bruins’ third-period goal that tied the game at 2?

The Bruins need games like this one, jangled by nerves and bursting with stakes. Did you watch Linus Ullmark keep them in the game time and time again, his 32 saves untarnished by the goals he gave up, rooted as they were in his defense’s mistakes?

The Bruins need games like this one, stained as it was by a couple of head-scratching miscues. Did you see that disjointed penalty kill that left shooter Brandon Hagel all alone, or the ugly defensive tango that put Ullmark on his back and his goal mouth wide open for Victor Hedman’s game-winner?

The Bruins need games like this one, indicative as it was of what it will be like come playoff time, when mistakes are magnified and intensity electrified.


Why else would coach Jim Montgomery come out of the loss nearly grinning as he marveled, “It was a great game, wasn’t it?”

“I thought it was back and forth all night long,” Montgomery said. “The biggest difference, and this is where we can grow, is a couple of details and goals against where we made mistakes in how we want to play things.

“It’s an opportunity. That’s the difference in the playoffs, and that was a playoff-type game. You need to execute in big moments and tonight unfortunately we didn’t, but it’s an opportunity for us to learn and grow and get better.”

Good for Montgomery for continuing to pound the right message, that no matter what type of assault his team makes on those regular-season records, that no matter how many times they prove their mettle by overcoming early deficits or dominating second- and third-period play, they can still get better. This is far from a finished product when the finish line is defined in only one way: the Stanley Cup.

And if you want to win a Stanley Cup, you have to overcome mistakes like the one referees missed on the faceoff that led to Tampa Bay’s second goal, when David Krejci’s stick was interfered with. Because the playoffs remain the most unpredictable stretch of all sports, when it seems anything can happen and everything should be expected, including questionable calls.


“As long as they’re consistent, that’s the biggest thing,” Brad Marchand told reporters after the game. “If they let it go, let it all go; if they make a chintzy call, make it all night.

“But come playoff time, you don’t want to see marginal calls made. It’s about the best team winning in the most complete way, and that’s winning five-on-five. The last thing you want to see in the playoffs is five, six, seven power plays — that’s not the way the playoffs are supposed to be played.

“It’s obviously different in the regular season. As long as it’s fair, I really don’t care.”

Marchand potted the first Bruins goal, a late second-period strike that tied the game. But as good as the Bruins have been at erasing early deficits, the Lightning are equally good at making an early lead count. They are undefeated this season when scoring first. And that, coupled with the home-ice advantage the Bruins know all too well matters in playoff time (remember how bad they looked in Carolina last season?), tilted this one Tampa Bay’s way.

“I think we had opportunities,” Marchand said. “They got a lucky goal on that third one, we made a couple mistakes. They’re a real good team, got to give them credit, but you make mistakes on them, they’re going to capitalize.

“That’s what happened. We got a couple opportunities we didn’t bury and they got a lucky bounce on that third one. That’s how it goes.


“You’re not going to win ‘em all. You know what? That’s a hell of a team. They’ve been to three Cup Finals the last number of years, they still have the majority of their core and an incredible goalie. With that, they’re going to be competitive.”

All true. On this particular night, they gave the Bruins all they could handle. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a bad thing.

Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her @Globe_Tara.