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PANTHERS 8, BRUINS 3

Bland opening

Bruins far from sharp as they begin with loss

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Zdeno Chara's captaincy is only one game old. But the Bruins' centerpiece, the foundation upon which the new-look club has been built, is already facing his first firestorm.

After the Bruins' humiliating 8-3 loss to the Florida Panthers last night before 19,250 at the BankAtlantic Center, the most goals the club has allowed in a season opener since the Montreal Canadiens hung a 9-4 loss on Boston in 1975, Chara was among the last of the players to leave a deflated dressing room.

``We have to forget about this game," Chara said. ``It's a long season. We've got 81 games to go in the regular season. We've got another shot at it [tonight]. You can't be thinking whether it's a game or practice. It doesn't matter. We have to go into the next game with a fresh attitude, a smile on your face, and positive energy."

Last night, however, will be a debacle the Bruins will have trouble forgetting.

Error-prone defense? You've got it.

A wary and weary penalty kill? Bingo.

Leaky goaltending? Check.

Put all those elements together and the brittle Bruins, with every mistake turning into a puck in the back of their net, collapsed on a night they were supposed to flaunt their new product. A team built on defense. A club tough to play against. A squad that didn't back down in times of trouble.

The Bruins, who allowed four goals on six power plays, were none of that last night.

Coach Dave Lewis, the boss of an NHL bench for the first time since the 2003-04 season, thought his club played well for a period and a half. It had gotten chances in the first period, down, 3-1, going into the first intermission after allowing a pair of power-play goals.

The Bruins climbed back to within a goal in the second period when Marco Sturm, drawing two defenders, found linemate Glen Murray in the slot for an easy wrister over goalie Alex Auld (34 saves), making it a 3-2 game.

But the Bruins, dubbed a fragile bunch by their coach after the game, folded after Murray's goal, allowing five straight Florida strikes. Big winger Todd Bertuzzi, brought to Florida in a trade that sent franchise goalie Roberto Luongo to Vancouver, recorded a goal and three assists, setting up linemate Joe Nieuwendyk with a sweet backhand pass that gave the Panthers a 4-2 lead.

That goal, the first of five straight, was the beginning of the end for the Bruins and Lewis, who was forced to yank Tim Thomas (27 saves) in the third period for Hannu Toivonen (three saves).

``I think our guys can respond much better," Lewis said. ``We have to establish a structured system that they have faith in. But they also have to have faith in themselves and their teammates. We can do a better job of that. At times we did a lot of really good things. Then we had the collapse."

After the game, Thomas said he didn't think he met all his responsibilities. That sentiment was laughed at by several Bruins, including Brad Stuart, one of the mistake-happy defensemen who coughed up the puck under pressure by the Panthers.

``We're in no position to fault Timmy for anything," said Stuart (minus-1 in 21 minutes 20 seconds of ice time). ``We didn't help him out at all. We all know that. We look at it as an unacceptable effort from everyone. But we'll start fresh [tonight]. This is the first game of a long season. We don't want to look at this being a tragic event. It's one game."

One game in which everything -- save some energy from the fourth line (even a fight involving Yan Stastny and Florida defenseman Bryan Allen) and some early-game offensive pressure -- went wrong for the Bruins.

They had eight man-advantage opportunities, but buried only one of those attempts, as their shots either sailed wide of the net or hit bodies in front.

They took untimely penalties, as their top defensive pairing of Chara and Andrew Alberts were both whistled off in the first period, giving Florida a two-man advantage and two quick goals.

Tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning, they'll try to forget about last night's score and recover the game that dissolved yesterday. Better defensive coverage. Stronger power play. More efficient penalty killing.

As Lewis said, a loss is a loss regardless of the score. It just didn't help that an eight-spot came on the night the Bruins least expected it to happen.

``I'm not going to throw away a month's preparation with this organization," said Lewis, ``after one game."

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