For the first 59 minutes of Thursday night's game between the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers, the story was how great Tim Thomas was playing against the team he won a Stanley Cup with in 2011. Then Reilly Smith stole the spotlight and the win.
Smith scored with 59 seconds left in the third period to break a 2-2 tie and give the Bruins a much needed two points in the new Atlantic Division. Smith took the puck behind Thomas' net, feeding line-mate Patrice Bergeron, who was camped in front of the net along with four Panthers defenders. Bergeron was able to set up Smith to the left of Thomas for the game-winner, ending Florida's chances to steal a victory from the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
The Bruins jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead thanks to aggressive play and puck possession in the first period. Daniel Paille started the scoring for the B's 3:45 into the game, as the Merlot line executed a beautiful play off of the faceoff. Gregory Campbell won the draw back to defenseman Matt Bartkowski (who was in the lineup due to the healthy scratch of Adam McQuaid), and Bartkowski found a streaking Dennis Seidenberg up ice. Seidenberg fed Paille, who maneuvered around the Panthers' defense for his first goal of the season.
After a penalty of Florida's Shawn Matthias for hooking, the Bruins capitalized on their first power play opportunity to snatch a 2-0 lead. David Krejci found Dougie Hamilton setting up in front of the blue line, and Hamilton ripped a slap shot at center ice. Thomas was being screened in front by both Zdeno Chara and Brian Campbell, who ultimately deflected the puck by his own goalie. It was the first goal of the season for Hamilton, who had been a healthy scratch himself in the last two games. Three of Hamilton's six career NHL goals have come on the power play.
The Bruins outshot the Panthers 15-8 in the first period, and spent the majority of the period getting up close and personal with their former Vezina and Conn Smythe trophy-winning netminder. They could not keep their attacking style going for the second and third period, which allowed the Panthers to sneak back into the game.
Florida scored their first goal of the night on a delayed penalty call against the Bruins. The Panthers were able to take advantage of the extra skater (due to a slash called on David Krejci), with Kris Versteeg finding the back of the net on a wrist shot at the 12:32 mark in the second period. They tied the game up at 2-2 with six minutes left in the game on a sloppy play by the Bruins' defense. The B's could not clear the puck off of a faceoff in their end, as the puck ended up on the left pad of goalie Tuukka Rask. Before Rask could corral the puck long enough for a stoppage of play, Jesse Winchester was able to lift it into the net for the equalizer.
The Bruins had a golden opportunity to grab a two goal lead in the third period, with a four minute power play thanks to a high-sticking double-minor penalty on the Panthers. Thomas made a terrific sprawling save on a breakaway chance from Jarome Iginla midway through the penalty-kill, reminding Bruins fans of his play during his lengthy tenure with the squad. Thomas was 196-121-45 in his eight seasons with the Bruins, hoisting the Stanley Cup title in 2011. Thomas took the 2012-2013 season off, and signed a one-year deal with the Panthers in the offseason.
The Bruins host Thomas and the Panthers on November 7th.