On paper, it looked like 2 points in the bank. The Atlanta Thrashers were playing their second game in as many nights, they'd gone to overtime against Carolina Friday and then had to travel while Boston sat home waiting for them to arrive.
But, as has been the case all too often this season, the Bruins showed an astonishing lack of killer instinct. They allowed the Thrashers to hang around through two periods and then snoozed through much of the third. In the end, the Bruins had to settle for a 2-2 tie at the FleetCenter. It was a league-high 26th time Boston had gone to the extra session.
"It certainly wasn't our best game, that's for sure," said coach Mike Sullivan. "I don't think we were very thorough in our own end. We had some chances to score but I don't think it was our best effort."
The Bruins started out OK, outshooting the Thrashers by a 7-2 margin in the first. They went up, 1-0, at 6:24 on the second goal in as many games by defenseman Sergei Gonchar. Left wing Mike Knuble did the dirty work on the play, skating down the right circle with Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby on his back. Knuble skated behind the net and next to the left post before finding Gonchar in the left circle, and he one-timed the puck past goalie Pasi Nurminen. It was the ninth tally of the season for Gonchar, who was acquired Wednesday from the Washington Capitals.
But instead of building on that lead, the Bruins held the door wide open for the Thrashers to stay in it.
"That was one of the things we said in between periods after the first," said Sullivan. "We've got to keep going and really push the pace and push the tempo and try to keep our shifts short and our energy up. I don't think we had the jump that we've had as of late. I'm not sure what the reason is for it. We've had an emotional few days for everyone involved with the addition of [Gonchar and center Michael Nylander, who was acquired from Washington Thursday] and we played an opponent who is fighting for a playoff spot so we knew it was going to be tough. If we're going to have success down the stretch, we have to play a tighter checking game."
In the first half of the second period, the Bruins had some strong scoring bids, particularly by right wing Glen Murray (four shots in the period, six in the game), but Nurminen kept them out. At the other end, the Thrashers were gaining confidence as they put the pressure on the Bruins during three power-play opportunities. They didn't score, but rallied to take the lead in the third on two man-advantage tallies.
The Thrashers had a two-man advantage for 12 seconds early in the third when P.J. Axelsson joined defenseman Hal Gill in the penalty box on a slashing call. The Bruins were able to kill off the first penalty, but not the second.
Center Patrik Stefan battled Bruins captain Joe Thornton in the right circle after the faceoff and the puck went to defenseman Jiri Slegr. However, Slegr turned it over to Atlanta forward Shawn McEachern, who jammed the puck past goalie Andrew Raycroft on a second effort to make it 1-1 at 2:03.
The Bruins' malaise continued when left wing Serge Aubin raced in on a breakaway a minute later, but Raycroft made a terrific stop with his right pad.
But the penalties kept coming. Forward Travis Green was called for tripping at 5:22, putting Atlanta back on the man advantage and it cashed in to take the lead.
At the 7-minute mark, Slava Kozlov blasted a shot from the right point that right wing Dany Heatley deflected past Raycroft to make it 2-1. The Bruins looked terrible for a good portion of the period. At the 9:45 mark, they were being outshot 10-0 in the period and it swelled to 14-1 in Atlanta's favor before Boston woke up.
It was Knuble who pulled his team even, scoring on a power-play goal at 14:46. Center Brian Rolston led the way for his team by driving down the left side of the ice, then throwing a pass back to defenseman Nick Boynton in the right slot. Boynton used a touch pass to dish it to Knuble on the left side of the slot and he drove to the net, beating a sprawled Nurminen for his 18th goal of the year and 200th NHL point.
The Bruins outshot the Thrashers, 5-0, in the overtime but were forced to settle for a tie.
"I think we just let them hang around too long," said Knuble. "For two-thirds of the game, they were chasing us and then all of a sudden it got flipped and we were chasing hard. We were lucky to get it but we shouldn't have been in that spot in the first place."