BRUINS 3, SENATORS 2
For a night, Thornton, Bruins see the light
KANATA, Ontario -- For weeks, they've been looking for answers. They've held team meetings, they've held player meetings. General manager Mike O'Connell threatened changes, and coach Mike Sullivan said some players might find themselves out of the lineup if things didn't improve.
In short, the Bruins were looking for someone to step up. Someone to take the pressure off. Someone to pull them out of their protracted 1-4-4-1 skid. Someone to play the role of hero.
Last night against the Ottawa Senators, they got it.
Captain Joe Thornton scored at 10:57 of the third period to break a 2-2 deadlock and lift the Bruins to a 3-2 victory at the Corel Centre. It was Boston's first road win over the Senators in 11 games, since March 24, 1999.
Thornton got the puck from defenseman Nick Boynton and fired it from the left circle through the pads of Patrick Lalime, giving Boston just its second triumph since Nov. 20.
"I'm happy for our players," said Sullivan. "I'm happy for our guys because I thought they really pulled together. It's not an easy thing to go through some of the adversity that we've gone through. But we believe in our players and we told them that. We have what it takes to turn this around and get this team going in the right direction. Tonight was a good start. We're going to be a much better team because of this experience."
At times, though, last night looked frightfully familiar to other games during the last three weeks. They got on the scoreboard first on Glen Murray's 10th of the season. Brian Rolston made a long cross-ice pass to Murray, who was charging up the right side. Murray cut across the right circle, deked Lalime, who went down on his back, and roofed the puck over the netminder for the 1-0 lead at 6:32 of the first period.
But the next two belonged to Ottawa, both on the power play. With Dan McGillis off for roughing, center Jason Spezza dished a pass to right wing Marian Hossa. Hossa's shot hit the post and bounced out to mammoth defenseman Zdeno Chara, who beat goalie Andrew Raycroft with the rebound at 11:20. The second Senators' goal came late in the period against the Bruins' struggling penalty killers.
With Rolston off for hooking defenseman Karel Rachunek, Spezza got the puck from Daniel Alfredsson and fed former Bruin Bryan Smolinski high in the slot. Smolinski one-timed the puck past Raycroft at 18:28 to make it 2-1.
The Bruins pulled even midway through the second on the club's second shorthanded goal of the season and second in three games.
Thornton was high-sticked in the face by defenseman Brian Pothier but no penalty was called. In the same shift, Thornton's stick clipped left wing Antoine Vermette and Thornton was whistled off at 10:47.
However, Boston turned bad fortune into opportunity. Forward Ted Donato, who has provided energy and grit since being called up from Providence, skated the puck through the neutral zone and gained the blue line on the left side during a two-on-one. Rolston, who was in the right circle, collected the pass from Donato and snapped it into the top left corner of the net at 10:56.
"That was a big goal for us," said Sullivan. "It was a little discouraging coming out of the first period down, 2-1, when I thought our team really did a lot of good things. We came out hard, we were physical, I thought we were making pretty good decisions with the puck. I thought what hurt us was we didn't quite work as smart away from the puck as we need to. When you don't have that awareness away from the puck playing against a team like Ottawa, they're going to get their scoring chances. We talked about it in between periods and that goal certainly was a big boost for our team."
That set the stage for Thornton's third-period heroics, which led to a giant sigh of relief.
"When the red light went on, I just said, `Thank God,' " said Thornton. "This is a big one for us. We've been struggling. We can put the meetings to rest now and just have some fun and get back to the hockey we used to play."
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.