TAMPA — Lightning rookie Cory Conacher prides himself on being fearless, playing a lot bigger than his 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame.
So as Conacher traded cross-checks Thursday night with Bruins 6-foot-9, 255-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara, it didn't matter the magnitude of the mismatch. Not even when Chara gave the wing a couple whacks to the head, earning a roughing penalty.
"I definitely had to check my pants a little bit," Conacher joked, smiling. "It's important for me not to back down from guys that are taller than me or twice the size of me. You give me a shove, I'll shove back."
The Lightning lost 4-2 to the Bruins before a sellout crowd of 19,204 at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, but it answered coach Guy Boucher's challenge to match the compete level and physicality of one of the top teams in the conference for a full 60 minutes.
"It was probably the most intense game of the year by far," Boucher said. "Our players really went to war, and wanted this game. But we got beat by a better team. That's what we've got to aim for, to improve to be able to beat that kind of team."
Tampa Bay (8-7-2) beat itself early on, with miscues in its zone leading to two goals by Boston in the first four minutes, including the first of two by Nathan Horton.
"Down 2-0 in the first five minutes of the game is a tough way to play," Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos said.
Stamkos started the Lightning's comeback just past the midway point of the period with a goal, and Conacher tied the score midway through the second on an odd-man rush, snapping his eight-game scoring drought.
But the stalemate didn't last long. Brad Marchand scored five minutes later to give the Bruins the lead for good. On the play, Tyler Seguin's shot was blocked by Matt Carle, but the puck was deflected right to the stick of Marchand.
"Not much we could do on it," Boucher said. "Defensemen played it exactly like they should. That was tough to take."
The Bruins' penalty kill has been extremely tough to crack, and it has the league's best road percentage. "Nobody scores against them," Boucher said. That continued Thursday, with Tampa Bay going 0-for-3 on the power play, including 0-for-2 the third period.
"We couldn't even get in the zone," Stamkos said. "It's tough to score on the power play when you're not set up."
Though wing Teddy Purcell said the recent power play struggles (3-for-30) have been frustrating, that the Lightning hung in and wasn't intimidated by the Bruins was a "good measuring stick" and a "sign in the right direction."
But even Purcell shook his head at the sight of Conacher taking on Chara.
"I don't know what he's doing cross-checking Chara there. I mean, he's barking up the wrong tree," Purcell quipped. "But he's in your face, he doesn't back down from anybody."
Thursday, neither did the Lightning.
First Period—1, Boston, Horton 5 (Hamilton), 1:11. 2, Boston, P.Bergeron 3 (Marchand), 3:50. 3, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 11 (Purcell, M.Bergeron), 8:13. Penalties—Hamilton, Boston (high-sticking), 4:07.
Second Period—4, Tampa Bay, Conacher 6 (Purcell, Stamkos), 9:00. 5, Boston, Marchand 9 (Seguin, P.Bergeron), 13:58. Penalties—Chara, Boston (roughing), 19:35.
Third Period—6, Boston, Horton 6 (Chara, Hamilton), 2:33. Penalties—McQuaid, Boston (tripping), 14:15; Lecavalier, Tampa Bay (tripping), 20:00. Shots on Goal—Boston 8-12-6—26. Tampa Bay 5-12-9—26. Power-play opportunities—Boston 0 of 0; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Boston, Rask 8-1-2 (26 shots-24 saves). Tampa Bay, Lindback 7-4-1 (26-22).