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BRUINS 4, LIGHTNING 2

Victory comes with a price

Thornton leaves with spasms as Bruins skate past Lightning

TAMPA -- Coach Mike Sullivan called the Bruins' first period against the Lightning last night their best of the young season. It didn't yield any goals -- in fact, they fell behind -- but they parlayed that strong effort into a relentless push through the final buzzer, earning a 4-2 victory over the defending Stanley Cup champions at the St. Pete Times Forum.

There were plenty of good elements. Defenseman Brian Leetch potted his first goal as a Bruin, as did left wing Brad Isbister, and left wing P.J. Axelsson scored his first of the season. And goaltender Andrew Raycroft (26 saves) picked up his first win of the year.

However, there was one bad element that overshadowed the joy. Captain Joe Thornton left the game with five minutes left, heading to the dressing room with back spasms. Thornton said he's had back issues since the start of training camp but nothing as serious as last night.

''I don't know what happened," said Thornton. ''Nobody really hit me. It just kind of went out on me. It hasn't been really a big problem. I've been stretching it every day and it kind of loosens up for practice, but it was one of those things where I just leaned over and boom, it just went out."

Thornton said he had an MRI prior to the exhibition game against Montreal Sept. 27 and ''everything was fine."

It doesn't appear fine now. Though Thornton insisted the problem hasn't affected his play, he has stayed on the periphery rather than go into traffic as he normally would and in general doesn't look as comfortable as he should. He has four assists in four games but a total of only four shots.

''It's just one of those wear and tear [ailments] and usually about Game 60 you've got these, but I'll take [today and tomorrow] off and see how it feels Thursday," said Thornton. ''It's been like this for a little bit.

''I'll just take a couple of days off and let it cool down, ice it, take some anti-inflammatories, and hopefully it gets better."

The Lightning, outshot, 10-3, in the first period, took a 1-0 lead with 25.4 seconds remaining. Center Brad Richards dished a centering pass to left wing Fredrik Modin, who fired a shot from the left circle past Raycroft.

''I saw the pass-out and I tried to take as much room [as possible]," said Raycroft. ''It was a pretty good shot. You don't want to give one up with 20 seconds left but we got away with it tonight."

Boston pulled even at 9:07 of the second period on a power-play tally by Leetch, whose shot from the slot clipped off defenseman Nolan Pratt's stick, changed direction, and beat goalie John Grahame high.

The Bruins took the lead for good with 2:49 left in the second. Patrice Bergeron drove down the left circle and tried to jam the puck in at the left post but Grahame blocked it. However, the rebound squirted out to Axelsson, who buried it.

Remarkably, the Bruins had only four shots in the middle period but scored on two of them.

They built on the lead at 3:17 of the third. Axelsson relayed a pass to center Travis Green, whose shot from the right circle eluded Grahame. Only 34 seconds after coming out of the penalty box, Isbister made it a three-goal bulge when he redirected a point shot at 9:32.

That fourth goal chased Grahame, who was replaced by veteran Sean Burke, making his Lightning debut. Defenseman Dan Boyle pulled the Lightning within two when he scored at 14:28, but they could get no closer.

''I thought our guys really came out from the drop of the puck and played hard," said Sullivan. ''I thought we made much better decisions with the puck.

''We limited the offensive opportunities of Tampa off the rush, which has been one of our objectives. I thought we were much more responsible with our possessions."

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