SUNRISE, Fla. -- Captain Joe Thornton was out of the lineup because of a strained back, Alexei Zhamnov has yet to suit up for the Bruins because of a shoulder injury, and defenseman Nick Boynton was finally signed but not yet present. However, coach Mike Sullivan said he was only concerned with what he had, and he believed he had the personnel to not only challenge but beat the Florida Panthers.
Turned out he was right. The Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 lead, hunkered down during a furious second period when the Panthers battled back, and ultimately earned the 5-2 victory last night at the BankAtlantic Center. It marks the third straight win for Boston.
Patrice Bergeron, taking Thornton's place centering the top line, led the Bruins' offense with one goal, which turned out to be the winner, and one assist. Bergeron said he was assured by linemates Glen Murray and Sergei Samsonov that he could shoulder the load.
''Muzz [Murray] told me before the game, 'Just do your thing and don't worry about playing with me and Sammy,' " said Bergeron. '' 'If you see me in the slot, don't try to pass it to me if you have a better angle for a shot, just shoot.' That just gave me confidence. I was pretty happy to get a chance to play with those guys."
The game started with more fisticuffs than finesse. At 2:37 of the first period, Bruins enforcer Colton Orr squared off with Florida defenseman Eric Cairns. Just 35 seconds later, Bruins winger Pat Leahy took on Panthers center Chris Gratton. Their brief bout ended with Gratton being assessed an additional penalty for hooking.
The Bruins took advantage of the power play, grabbing a 1-0 lead at 4:53. Bergeron sent the puck out of the left corner toward the net. It popped into the air in the slot and Murray outdueled Florida defenseman Sean Hill for it. Murray gloved it down and swept it past goalie Roberto Luongo.
The Bruins boosted their lead to a pair at 15:51 on Tom Fitzgerald's first goal of the season, which was scored on a similar play to Murray's. Travis Green, in the right circle, fired the puck toward the net and it deflected into the air. Fitzgerald batted it down with his glove and then backhanded it past Luongo.
The Bruins added to their lead at 5:26 of the second on a power-play goal by Bergeron. Bergeron had the puck behind the Florida net and skated around the cage, maneuvering in front to Luongo's right. He continued across the top of the crease and tried to jam it past Luongo inside the right post. Luongo stopped the first attempt with his right pad but Bergeron got his own rebound and buried it for his third goal of the year.
''I tried to go wide on Luongo when I came behind the net but he's got such long legs that there was no room and I had to take the rebound," said Bergeron. ''Muzz and Sammy made a great forecheck on that play. The puck was just laying there and I took it and tried to do a wraparound, and he has such big legs, I had to try twice. I got kind of a lucky bounce. There was a small space between the post and his leg and it went in. I'll take it."
Florida coach Jacques Martin had seen enough and replaced Luongo with Jamie McLennan. Luongo played 25 minutes 19 seconds and stopped 12 shots.
The Panthers came alive after that, outshooting the Bruins, 13-3, the rest of the period, and striking twice. At 12:45, center Nathan Horton scored, and at 14:19 it was right wing Juraj Kolnik.
In the third, though, the Bruins got their feet back under them, and generated some much needed breathing room when Brad Isbister converted a Brian Leetch rebound during a three-on-two for Boston's fourth goal with 8:26 remaining.
P.J. Axelsson closed it out with a shorthanded, empty-net goal with 53.5 ticks on the clock.
''That's the new league," said Andrew Raycroft, who had 33 saves for the Bruins. ''Three-nothing isn't safe. You have to give them credit, too. We didn't just completely quit. They came really hard. We were able to get out of the second, which was huge, at 3-2, and we hung on."
Sullivan said as much as it is stressful for coaches, the new landscape means being up three goals isn't a slam dunk, and that's true for any team.
''When you look around the league, the way games are going, a two- or three-goal lead just isn't enough anymore," he said. ''That's a lesson we should heed coming out of this game. Fortunately, I thought we had a solid third period, which we were encouraged by. I don't think it was the prettiest win, but nevertheless it's a win, and we're happy to take it and move on."