On the night that Bruins' fans saluted an injured Tim Thomas with a standing ovation in his return to Boston, Tuukka Rask stood on his head a few times behind the pipes for the B's on Thursday night.
Rask made 23 saves for his eighth win of the season as the Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers 4-1. It was the ninth victory for the Bruins in their last ten meetings with the Panthers, and their second win against their division rival in the early part of this season.
The Bruins reversed their early season trend of getting behind in games by scoring first at the 7:17 mark of the second period. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara fed David Krejci at the blue line for a one-timer that beat Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen. The goal was the third on the season for Krejci, who leads the Bruins in points scored with 15, averaging one point per game this year.
The Bruins added to their lead in the third period when Dennis Seidenberg's slap shot from the blue line was tipped in by Brad Marchand for his second goal of the season at 4:09. Seidenberg's blast trickled through the pads of Clemmensen, and Marchand crashed the net for an easy goal. Marchand celebrated the goal, which was his first in his last 13 games, by making a gesture which looked like he was taking the monkey off of his back.
Torey Krug added to the Bruins' lead at 8:57 of the third period, netting his sixth goal of the season on a crisp feed from Chris Kelly to make it 3-0. The Panthers showed signs of life in the second half of the final stanza, scoring with 5:35 left in the third to make it 3-1. Jesse Winchester, who also scored in the first meeting of the season, knocked a rebound in off of Nick Bjugstad's shot for the only Panthers goal of the night. Reilly Smith rounded out the scoring at 18:13 when he stole a pass in the Panthers' end and beat Clemmensen for his second goal of the year.
The Merlot line, which had zero shots on goal during Boston's loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night, chipped in with two fights in this tilt. Gregory Campbell fought Winchester just 21 seconds after Winchester hit Chris Kelly with an elbow to the face. When the officials did not call a penalty on the hit, Campbell took it upon himself to enforce some punishment on Winchester. Shawn Thornton tussled with Krys Barch in the latter stages of the second period. It was the fourth fighting major on the season for Thornton and the 100th in his career for Barch.
The win was just what the doctor ordered for the Bruins, who were struggling prior to the game, going just 1-3-1 in their last five games. The win moves them just one point back of the Maple Leafs and the Red Wings for second place in the Atlantic Division. The Panthers are now winless in their last seven games, going 0-3-4 since October 19th.
Next up for the reunion tour in Boston is Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night. It will be the third straight game featuring former Bruins stars, as Tyler Seguin returned to Boston on Tuesday night with the Stars and Tim Thomas watched from the rafters on Thursday night with the Panthers.