SUNRISE, Fla. - At the end of the night, when Alex Auld turned aside the third straight Panther to backstop the Bruins to a 5-4 shootout victory before 14,992 at the BankAtlantic Center, the former Florida netminder gave a Tiger Woods-like fist pump.
Auld wanted the start last night. But he relieved Tim Thomas after 40 minutes and didn't let any of the 13 third-period shots or two overtime attempts get behind him, then turned aside Steve Montador, Nathan Horton, and Olli Jokinen in the shootout.
So instead of the start, he got the win.
"It's not easy for Auldie coming in the net in the third period," said Zdeno Chara. "He was playing unbelievable. And in the shootout, he stopped all three shooters. All the guys really contributed to the win tonight."
For the first 40 minutes, a win didn't appear to be in the Boston crosshairs. The Bruins put heavy pressure on Tomas Vokoun, firing 30 shots on the Florida goalie through two periods that resulted in only a pair of goals.
But at the other end, seemingly every Bruins mistake turned into a Florida goal. In the first period, Dennis Wideman coughed up the puck in the defensive zone to allow the Panthers to regain control. Defenseman Bryan Allen floated a shot from the point that caromed off the skate of teammate Jay Bouwmeester, then ticked off Wideman's left skate to beat Thomas for the first goal.
In the second period, a strong belt along the end wall by forward Gregory Campbell forced Shane Hnidy to turn the puck over deep in the Boston zone. Seconds later, Montador beat Thomas with a shot from the slot.
The defensive mistakes, however, were compounded by the struggles of Thomas. In 40 minutes, Thomas gave up four goals on 12 shots, including a strike in the final second of the middle frame that gave Florida a 4-2 advantage.
"No doubt Timmy wasn't at his best tonight," said coach Claude Julien, whose team landed 48 shots to 27 for Florida.
In the second period, forward Rostislav Olesz gave Florida a 3-1 lead. Olesz, skating down the left wing, faked a wrister and threw off Thomas's timing. Olesz curled around the net and tucked the puck under the glove of the out-of-position Thomas at 12:11.
Wideman scored a power-play goal at 16:13 of the second period to make it 3-2. But Kamil Kreps, who kicked off an odd-man rush, put a wrister on goal that trickled past Thomas at 19:59, signaling the end to the netminder's night.
It was up to Thomas's teammates to respond.
"We were unhappy," said Marco Sturm. "But we knew they had lost a lot of two-goal leads. We didn't stop. We kept rolling."
In the third period, with Bouwmeester off for delay of game, the Bruins made it a one-goal game. Marc Savard, at his usual man-advantage station at the top of the right circle, curled into the slot to draw the Florida defense. Savard kicked the puck down low to Sturm, who quickly fired a cross-crease pass to a pinching Chara. Vokoun couldn't recover in time and Chara batted the puck into the net at 13:10.
Less than two minutes later, Boston's third line tied the score at the end of a long shift. David Krejci gained control of the puck at center ice, drew several defenders, and dished the puck to Phil Kessel. The right wing snapped a bad-angle shot past Vokoun at 14:48, breaking an eight-game goal drought.
In overtime, Jokinen nearly gave the Panthers the decision, firing a close-range wrister that Auld got a piece of with his glove.
But after a scoreless OT, the Bruins went to their second straight shootout. Sturm, who scored Boston's first goal, was tabbed as the first shooter despite having missed against Carolina Tuesday.
Sturm took the advice of Savard, who noticed at the All-Star Game that Vokoun liked to come off his line early, then dip back into the net. In previous shootout attempts this season, Sturm has advanced slowly with the puck and missed with forehand attempts.
This time, Sturm took a quick forehand shot that went between Vokoun's pads. Kessel and Krejci missed their attempts, but Auld, familiar with his ex-teammates' moves, stayed calm in his net. As he did in Boston's 3-2 shootout win over Buffalo Feb. 8, Auld didn't bite on the first moves.
"The bottom line," said Julien, "is those 2 points are huge for us."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.