In the third period, when Atlanta sharpshooter Marian Hossa entered the Boston zone and winged a shot from the top of the right circle, Tim Thomas read the puck and determined it was going wide of the net, up high past his blocker.
But at the last moment, Thomas saw the puck skim off the shinpad of Eric Belanger. The slightest deflection off the Atlanta forward's equipment was all the puck needed to change direction and elude Thomas at 7:28.
It turned out to be the winning goal (credited to Hossa), as the Thrashers swiped a 3-2 victory over the Bruins before 16,417 fans at TD Banknorth Garden last night. The Bruins, who had three injured players (Andrew Alberts, Shean Donovan, and Phil Kessel) return to the lineup, are now 7 points behind the Carolina Hurricanes for eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
"We've got to go back at it the next game," said Brad Boyes, who scored one of Boston's two goals after being reunited with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron. "We're not out of it by any means.
"It would have been a great win to get the 2 points. But now we've got to start another streak going."
The Thrashers, playing their first game with new additions Keith Tkachuk and Alexei Zhitnik in the lineup, won by playing the blue-collar, old-fashioned way, crashing the net and creating traffic in front of Thomas (17 saves).
In the first period, after Donovan scored his 100th career goal at 1:29 to give Boston a 1-0 lead, the Thrashers tied the game with a power-play goal.
With Paul Mara in the penalty box for hooking, defenseman Niclas Havelid put a slap shot on goal that skittered off the skate of captain Scott Mellanby. Thomas, forced to adjust when the puck went off the skate, squeezed his pads shut, trying to smother the shot. But when he did, Thomas tapped the puck, which had slipped behind him, across the goal line with his left pad at 14:35.
Boyes beat goalie Kari Lehtonen (22 saves) at 18:22 of the first period for the go-ahead goal, but the Atlanta power play scored the equalizer once again early in the second period.
Forty-nine ticks into the second period, Marc Savard was called for hooking. Again, the Thrashers sent bodies toward the crease. A slapper by forward Slava Kozlov was redirected wide into the right corner, where Greg de Vries settled the puck. The defenseman sent it toward the slot, where it bounced off Thomas and to the stick of Belanger, who had an easy tap-in at 2:09 to make it a 2-2 game.
The Bruins continued to take careless penalties. At 15:07 of the second period, they were nabbed with an extra skater on the ice, the 10th time this year they've been tagged with a too-many-men call.
The Bruins killed off that penalty, but at 19:57, Savard flipped the puck into the crowd and was sent off for delay of game.
The Bruins kept the Thrashers from scoring during Savard's time in the box, but a second delay-of-game call killed any hope of a rally. Deep in his own zone, Mara was battling for the puck and spotted an Atlanta forechecker coming toward him. Mara tried to clear the zone, but the puck ended up over the glass at 17:26, putting the Bruins down a man.
"I tried to shoot it around the boards, and unfortunately it went out of the rink," said Mara. "It's one of those rules that should be changed. It's really not a delay of game. I'm not trying to shoot the puck out of the rink. It's just the way the puck bounces sometimes."
"I think we can do a better job of not doing that," coach Dave Lewis said. "The ice around the rink is different everywhere you go. It gets a little bit ragged at the end of periods. And yet you're in control of the puck. You're in control of your stick.
"I think we can do a better job at that. That's a freebie for the other team."
And on a night when the Boston power play was blanked on its four opportunities, one freebie was one too many.