For 20 minutes, it was much of the same garbage that tainted the Bruins' last six losses.
Foolish penalties. Missed assignments. A whole lot of running around in the defensive zone.
So when those mistakes led to a two-goal deficit after the first period, the Bruins finally determined they were sick of losing.
"I think we just decided to play," said coach Claude Julien. "That was my message to them after the first period ended. I think our guys were full of good intentions, but we were very, very hesitant and worried about making that mistake that was going to cost us. We were a half-step behind everywhere. So I just told them to go out and play. We all know what we have to do."
Whereas the first 20 minutes were a near-abomination, the final two periods showed the Bruins at their best, executing nearly all of the elements of their game that once propelled them to a second-place standing in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins scored five straight goals, claiming a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden yesterday to break their six-game losing streak.
For the final 40 minutes, seemingly all of Julien's moves worked. Julien used David Krejci, promoted from Providence on Sunday, as his second-line center. The rookie responded with one of his better games as an NHLer and recorded an assist. Glen Metropolit, dropped to the third line, helped set up the winning goal. Phil Kessel took over No. 1 right wing duties from Brandon Bochenski and scored a power-play goal. Dennis Wideman was shifted to the No. 2 power-play unit and opened the scoring for Boston, while Matt Lashoff, elevated to the top man-advantage fivesome, scored his first NHL goal.
While their coach had the hot hand behind the bench, the Bruins played a thorough 40 minutes on the ice. They didn't chase the Thrashers in their own zone. They put themselves in position to draw penalties and capitalized on the power play. They got timely goaltending when the odd breakdown took place.
Most important, they showed the courage to hit the danger areas, finally accepting the fate that goals will be scored and wins will be recorded when punches to the head and slashes to the legs are taken.
"We had some net-front presence," said Julien. "Whether it's screens, rebounds, or creating some distractions, that certainly helped."
The afternoon started horribly, as the Bruins allowed the game-opening goal for the fifth time in the last six outings. With Krejci serving a holding penalty, Atlanta captain Bobby Holik found a seam in front and tapped an off-speed shot past Tim Thomas (28 saves) at 9:18.
Then Boston's fourth line, along with Wideman and Lashoff, failed to clear the zone. Forward Colin Stuart, appearing in his second NHL game, took a pass from linemate Todd White and ripped a shot through Thomas for his first big-league goal at 13:18.
And in the final seconds of the period, after Marco Sturm was denied for a second straight game on a shorthanded breakaway, the Bruins found themselves in yet another hole.
"In those crucial times, you have to keep in mind that you can't really panic," said Zdeno Chara. "You can't be bringing negative energy into the room. You have to deal with it and find a way."
Boston kicked off its second-period rally after forward Chris Thorburn was nabbed for hooking.
With Chuck Kobasew setting a screen on Kari Lehtonen, Wideman, shifted to the No. 2 power-play unit, cranked a half-slapper that eluded the Atlanta goalie at 4:40.
Thirty-four seconds later, P.J. Axelsson tied the game when the left wing, hovering in the slot area, tipped a shot by Chara past Lehtonen.
The Bruins scored the game-winning goal with more hard work in the dirty areas. Metropolit was stickhandling in the Atlanta zone when he was hooked by defenseman Garnet Exelby. But Metropolit kept control of the puck, allowing Thomas to hit the bench for an extra attacker.
After some more jamming along the boards, Peter Schaefer emerged with the puck, spotted Mark Stuart at the point, and hit the defenseman with a crisp diagonal pass.
Stuart stepped into his shot and powered a slapper through Lehtonen at 9:40.
"We're not satisfied," said Marc Savard. "We know there's work to be done here in the second half. But we're happy with getting the win tonight. We're going to enjoy it."