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BRUINS 4, PANTHERS 1

Hurting Bruins cure ills

Missing several regulars, they claw their way past Panthers

The banged-up Bruins snapped out of their doldrums last night, earning a 4-1 victory over the Florida Panthers at the TD Banknorth Garden. It was their first victory in three games and their third win over their last 10.

The triumph was all the more remarkable because of one statistic -- three of their six defensemen went into the action with a total of 28 NHL games combined. Andrew Alberts was playing his 14th game, Kevin Dallman was on No. 15, and Milan Jurcina stepped into his second. They were given part of the daunting task of making up for veteran Brian Leetch's absence (and his 1,158 games of NHL experience). The Bruins were also missing Ian Moran, who is scheduled to have knee surgery, which took another 488 games of experience out of the mix.

In addition to a thin blue line, the Bruins were without No. 1 goalie Andrew Raycroft (hamstring pull), No. 2 center Alexei Zhamnov, who has yet to suit up because of a shoulder injury, veteran forward Brad Isbister (groin strain), and one of their best penalty killers, Pat Leahy, who has a broken finger.

Somehow, though, they found a way, even when Dallman took a shot off the foot in the second period and played just three shifts in the third period.

''Tonight was a real important game," said defenseman Nick Boynton, who played a game-high 26 minutes 12 seconds over 27 shifts. ''Definitely we have a bunch of new guys in the lineup and we need to get some confidence. We just haven't been finishing games. I thought we finished the game pretty good tonight. They scored the goal but we didn't really stop. We kept going and we got the win and that's the most important thing. I thought tonight [we got off to] a great start. For 20 minutes, we played the way we can and should play every night, and if we can do that on a more consistent basis, we're going to be good."

Bruins captain Joe Thornton emphasized the necessity of a good start, which hasn't always been the case this season. However, against the Panthers, the Bruins were clearly the better team for much of the night, especially early on.

Boston took a 1-0 lead midway through the first, thanks to a miscue by Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo, whose clearing attempt behind the net went right onto the stick of forward Shawn McEachern. McEachern saw linemate Brad Boyes in front and backhanded a pass that Boyes buried into the open net at 7:19 for his fourth goal of the season.

At 11:11, the Bruins doubled their advantage, courtesy of their big guns. Left wing Sergei Samsonov relayed a pass to Thornton down low. Thornton funneled it to right wing Glen Murray, who one-timed a shot past Luongo from the right circle.

The Bruins outshot Florida in the opening 20 minutes, 16-6.

''That first period, I think we really dictated what kind of game it was going to be," said defenseman Hal Gill, who logged 21:15 over 25 shifts. ''We really played in their end. I wouldn't want to have to play against Joe and Glen and those guys. That's tough. They're big and they're strong and if you make a mistake, they make you pay."

In the scoreless second, during which both teams encountered penalty trouble, play was more even, but the Bruins took a 5-on-3 advantage into the third.

It started with left wing Martin Gelinas getting whistled off for four minutes, two for tripping and two for unsportsmanlike conduct, at 17:41. Defenseman Branislav Mezei was penalized at 19:36, which gave Boston 24 seconds on the two-man advantage, but the Bruins couldn't break through.

However, at the start of the third, the Bruins cashed in. Patrice Bergeron was set up at the right point and he relayed a pass to Jiri Slegr at the left point. Slegr dished it to Samsonov, who was below the left circle, and Samsonov gave it right back to Slegr, who beat Luongo with a one-timer to make it 3-0.

The Panthers scored their only goal at 4:39, with defenseman Joel Kwiatkowski beating goalie Hannu Toivonen with his first of the season. But they could get no closer and Travis Green sealed it with an empty-netter with 32.5 seconds remaining.

''It was good to see everyone respond," said Gill. ''It was good to see everyone rally around each other and I thought we played a real good team game. We knew with [Leetch] out we were going to need guys coming back, our forwards were going to have to come back and help out. With Leetchie, sometimes he gets the puck and he does it all on his own and it makes it a pretty easy game. Our forwards were pretty good about responding and coming back and helping us out. I thought Jurcina played really well. It's tough when you come in and you have a new partner and you're playing at a different level, and I thought he adapted really well."

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