PHILADELPHIA -- The Bruins went into the final four minutes of regulation last night with a two-goal lead over the Flyers and looked to be in pretty good control.
But what everyone -- including the Bruins -- should know now is that in the new National Hockey League, elation can turn to disappointment and then to shock and horror practically in the blink of an eye.
The Bruins watched as they went from two goals up to all even to a 4-3 overtime defeat in only 5 minutes 6 seconds at the
''We've just got to learn," said goalie Hannu Toivonen, who had 32 saves but was the picture of dejection. ''It's about starting to be the time that we can't let this happen anymore.
''Obviously, with the new league right here, a two-goal lead doesn't really mean a thing, as we saw again today. You've just got to remind yourself of that all the time. You've got to keep playing because teams are going to come at you. When you're not playing a full 60 minutes, it's really hard to win."
It unraveled in astounding fashion. Left wing Sergei Samsonov scored during a two-man advantage at the 56-second mark of the third period to give Boston its first lead, 2-1. The Bruins built on that when captain Joe Thornton made a fine play to strip defenseman Joni Pitkanen of the puck, drive the net down the right circle, and tuck the puck inside the right post on goalie Robert Esche with 4:48 left on the clock.
But Pitkanen went from goat to hero in short order. After left wing Simon Gagne pulled his club within one, 3-2, with 3:35 remaining in regulation, Pitkanen made up for his gaffe by scoring the tying goal with 23.4 ticks left and closing it out at 1:55 of the extra session.
''It kind of came really fast," said Toivonen, referring to the winning goal, which was a relay from center Michal Handzus to Pitkanen in front. ''It was just passing, bang. I tried to get myself in there and I had a piece of it but unfortunately it went off the post and in."
Philadelphia extended its home winning streak to seven games. The Bruins' victory streak ended at three, although they have earned at least a point in nine straight games. That was small consolation last night.
''It wasn't a very good effort in the third period," said defenseman Nick Boynton. ''We played pretty well up to there, but that's just horrible hockey, the new NHL or not.
''There's no excuses for that. A two-goal lead with [just under four minutes left] and then overtime, we still had a chance to win. We really can't let down like that. We've just to be leaders and put a stop to it."
It certainly didn't help the Bruins' cause that they were missing their top goal scorer, right wing Glen Murray, who fell ill overnight and wasn't able to suit up.
The only tally of the first period came with 54.2 seconds remaining, some 44 seconds after rookie defenseman Andrew Alberts was whistled off for elbowing. Not surprisingly, it was former Bruin Mike Knuble who put his club on the board.
Knuble, who walked away from Boston via unrestricted free agency in the summer of 2004, has picked up right where he left off, playing on a line with Peter Forsberg and Gagne. His eighth goal of the season came on a tip in front of Toivonen, which is the same way he scored so many goals for Boston.
Forsberg, at the right point, dished a pass to Kim Johnsson at the left point. Johnsson teed up a slapper and Knuble used his big body to gain position and his long reach to redirect the puck past Toivonen.
The Bruins pulled even when forward Shawn McEachern potted his first goal of the season, on a power play at 18:22. Defenseman Jiri Slegr dished a backhand pass from the right point to McEachern at the left. McEachern took one stride in, then teed up a slapper from atop the left circle that beat Esche to the glove side and pulled Boston even.
With 38.1 seconds remaining in the second, the Flyers were called for too many men on the ice, and Johnsson was whistled for holding at the 20-minute mark, giving Boston a two-man advantage to start the third.
That didn't go to waste, but unfortunately for the Bruins, their two-goal lead did.
''I thought we played 55 minutes of great hockey," said Thornton. ''We've got to learn to close the door when we get a chance. We say it, it seems like every game now. Until we start learning, we really need to bear down. It just wasn't good enough tonight."