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BRUINS 1, LIGHTNING 1

Bruins still tied up in knots

They play with more fire but end up in another deadlock

The lines were shuffled, the atmosphere was desperate, the situation was critical.

 

The Bruins in no way wanted to go into the two-day Christmas break on a negative note. Last night, against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the FleetCenter, they were forced to settle for a 1-1 tie, extending their winless streak to five games (0-3-2-0). In their last 16 games, they have just two victories (2-7-6-1).

Does it look bad? No question. But to the Bruins, it actually feels as if they're on the verge of turning things around. Compare this group to last year's squad that started great and wound up mired in mediocrity at your own risk.

"That's all we hear," said veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell. "It's a coincidence that we started out well last year and then got into it again. But it's night and day from last year. We were losing and it was ugly. With the exception of the Calgary game [last Thursday], we're right in there. We've been hitting the post, we've been hitting the goalie's helmet, we've been hitting the back of legs. We've been playing with a lot more passion and a little bit better defensively. We think we're close."

Last night, the Bruins played with far more passion and energy than in most games this month. Coach Mike Sullivan altered his combinations, teaming 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron on the top line with Joe Thornton and Mike Knuble in the spot normally occupied by veteran right wing Glen Murray.

But as well as Bergeron has been playing, the best combination of the night was P.J. Axelsson, Brian Rolston, and Rob Zamuner, who provided the one goal for Boston.

The Bruins were outshot badly in the opening period with Tampa holding a 10-2 advantage (which tied a season-low for Boston). They followed that up, though, by playing one of their best periods of the season. They scored their lone goal at 4:18 of the second on Zamuner's second tally of the year.

Defenseman Hal Gill managed to keep the puck in the Lightning zone and it went down to Rolston, who was positioned along the goal line to the left of goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. Axelsson charged the net, drawing three defenders, and Rolston fired the puck to his linemate. It caromed off the bodies in front and hit off the goalie's right pad before going to Zamuner. Zamuner, while being hauled down, chipped the puck over Khabibulin into the top left corner of the net. In addition to giving Boston a rare lead, it marked the 100th assist of Axelsson's career.

The Bruins continued to play aggressively throughout the period but couldn't get anything else past Khabibulin. One of their best chances came late when Dan McGillis fired a shot from the left point. The goalie made the stop, and Bergeron was there for the rebound, only to be denied.

Boston gave up an awful goal early in the third that tied the contest at 1-1. Andre Roy, who didn't have a point in the first 14 games he played but racked up 59 minutes in penalties, potted his first of the season.

Only 16 seconds into the action, Roy flung the puck from the goal line off to Raycroft's left and it beat the netminder, who said he wished he could have it back.

Despite that misfortune, the Bruins feel they're finally moving forward.

"I thought it was an effort from start to finish," said Sullivan. "Playing a tough game [the night before in New York against the Rangers], I thought we battled. We're trying to simplify our game and take some of the thinking out of it and try to use some of our physical attributes to try to generate some momentum.

"I thought we skated, I thought we competed. We would've liked to have controlled momentum a little bit better than we did. But I think we're making strides and that's what's important. I thought our team was emotionally involved in the game all night long.

"You really have to battle when you go through these bits of adversity and it's not something where you can snap your fingers and get out of [it], but I think it's a process and we're moving in the right direction. We certainly want to make sure we celebrate the good things we do because these guys care and they're battling and we're going to stand behind them through this."

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Toronto 20 6 6 3 49
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NESN highlights
12/24 Charlie Moore-athon, 1 p.m.
12/27 Bruins at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
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