B's are giddy, but don't tell anyone

TAMPA, Fla. -- Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic almost said it.

There were three simple words that nearly rolled off his tongue with ease before he caught himself and started to fumble over his answer.

Those three words: Stanley. Cup. Finals.

The Bruins are two wins from reaching the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1990. They own the sports landscape in Boston right now. Everyone is excited about their chances of reaching the finals, especially with a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference finals.

Game 4 of this series is Saturday afternoon at St. Pete Times Forum, and if they win, they could wrap up the series at home Monday night.

"It's an opportunity for us to get ... to get ... um ... to get one step closer to our goal," Lucic said with a big smile.

Sure, it's the team's philosophy, led by coach Claude Julien, to have that one-game-at-a-time mentality. That mindset keeps the players focused.

"You've got to take everything one step at a time, one game at a time and one win at a time," Lucic said. "That's why we've done good so far -- we haven't really looked too far ahead. We've always stayed in the present and focused on the task at hand."

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Come on, the fact that the team is two wins from the Stanley Cup finals also has to be a driving force. Right?

No more cliches. No more giving the company line. It's the middle of May and the Bruins are still playing hockey. An entire region is fired up for this. What do you have to say about that, Looch?

"This is a huge opportunity for us, and chances like this don't come around too often," he said.

OK. That's better. We'll take that.

Julien wasn't about to bite after the team's optional practice Friday morning. He maintains his vigilance during times such as these.

"All we've talked about is how important a game tomorrow is for us," Julien said. "We don't want to live in the past. Yesterday was yesterday. Tomorrow is what we want to talk about. We want to live in the present."

Lucic has been in the league for only four seasons and he doesn't have to look far to realize that, in fact, opportunities such as this don't occur too often. The 22-year-old forward glanced around the Bruins' locker room and explained that not too many guys have played this far into the spring. And for the ones who have, it's been few and far between.

Veteran and future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi has won two Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh (1991) and Carolina (2006), and this is his 23rd season in the NHL. He's been to the conference finals five times during his career.

"That sounds like a lot, but really it isn't," Lucic said. "You've got to go out there and enjoy it all, and in the end, you have to say that you had no regrets and you did everything you could to hopefully move forward."

Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron returned to the lineup in Game 3 after missing the first two games due to a concussion he suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Philadelphia Flyers on May 6. His presence was a major boost for the Bruins and gave Julien an opportunity to return his lineup to normal. As expected, Bergeron, who is always even-keeled no matter the situation, isn't about to step over that line and think about anything other than Game 4.

"We haven't accomplished anything, yet," Bergeron said. "We're still far away from our goal. It's only about the next game, and we'll worry about that.

"We're happy but we're not getting ahead of ourselves at all," he added. "We know Tampa will bounce back. It's been a tough series already and it'll be a tough game [on Saturday], and we have to make sure we're ready for that."

The first two games of this series were uncharacteristic of both teams. Game 3 was more of what was expected, and that should set the tone for the remainder of the series now that both teams have settled in.

"It's a huge game for both teams," Lucic said. "We know they're going to come out real hard. They're in their home rink and they're obviously not happy with the way things went [in Game 3], so they're going to come out as hard as they can. We expect their best and we have to bring our best."

When a team is still playing hockey in the spring, there's no need for rah-rah speeches or anything like that. The Bruins know what needs to be done. If they're able to accomplish that, Lucic will be able to say those three little words: Stanley. Cup. Finals.

Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.