NASHVILLE -- When the Bruins made center Joe Thornton the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NHL draft, they envisioned the kind of dominating, awe-inspiring performance they got from him last night against the Nashville Predators.
Thornton figured in all three Boston goals, scoring two -- including the winner with 1:52 left in regulation -- and assisting on the other as the Bruins beat the Predators, 3-2, at the
Boston extended its unbeaten streak to three games (2-0-1-0).
"When he plays that way, with that determination that he did out there tonight for all 60 minutes, I don't know that there's a better player in the league," said coach Mike Sullivan. "I think he's just overpowering in the [offensive] area of the ice. He's so tough to defend even when players are on him. Because he has such a long reach, he has the ability to get the puck away from the defender. He's just tough to contain.
"I thought he played one of his best games of the year tonight."
The first eight shots in the contest were all by the Predators, as the Bruins got off to yet another sluggish beginning. But goalie Andrew Raycroft was there to make the stops while his teammates got their legs under them.
It didn't take all that long. Thornton potted his first goal at 3:58. It marked the 20th tally of the season for Thornton, the fifth consecutive season he has reached that plateau.
Thornton had the puck behind the net and was looking to pass. Nothing opened up, so Thornton reversed field and skated left to right, looking for a target. Right wing Glen Murray set a pick on Predators center Greg Johnson at the inside edge of the right circle, opening a lane for Thornton. He drove behind Murray and curled into the slot, beating goaltender Tomas Vokoun with a forehand shot.
Asked to explain why everything was clicking, Thornton credited his linemates, Murray and Mike Knuble.
"They opened up some space for me tonight and luckily the puck was going in," he said. "As a line lately I think we've been feeling a little bit better. We're starting to get back to our old ways and maybe scoring every game and things like that. We're finding the open player and finding the spots to score right now."
The hard-working Predators pulled even early in the second period, on a goal by Johnson. The Bruins started the period on a power play, which carried over from the first when left wing Martin Erat was called for high-sticking at 18:32. But it was Nashville that cashed in.
Defenseman Mark Eaton got possession in his zone and fired a backhand pass into center ice for Johnson. Johnson took off up ice on a breakaway and beat Raycroft at the 20-second mark to the glove side for his 13th of the season.
It was the 14th shorthanded strike for the Predators, which tied them with Tampa Bay for second in the NHL behind Detroit (15). It also was the 12th allowed by the Bruins, tying them with Chicago for second worst in the league behind Pittsburgh's 15.
Knuble put the Bruins back on top at 9:12 of the third. Defenseman Dan McGillis started the play with a shot from the left point that Thornton tipped. Vokoun made the save but Knuble collected the rebound and rapped it into the net for his 19th goal of the year.
But Nashville rallied with 2:34 left in regulation. With defenseman Jiri Slegr off for holding the stick, the Predators went on their sixth power play, and they made it count. Right wing Steve Sullivan potted his 23d of the year, and eighth in 11 games since being dealt from the Blackhawks.
Then Thornton rode to the rescue 42 seconds later with a carbon copy of his first goal.
"Usually, I'll just wait for [Murray] to get in the slot and kind of dish it to him," said Thornton. "But I had some speed coming around the net and sometimes the [defensemen] actually come down and bring that forward with you. So you only get those opportunities once in a while. Tonight we took advantage of those."
In the process, he left even his teammates shaking their heads.
"He's a moose," said McGillis. "It's fun to watch him play. You're just glad you're on his side as a defenseman. He's a force to be reckoned with."