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Standards still high for last line of defense

As a rule for the first six games, the Bruins' top two defensive pairings (Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward as the first, Andrew Alberts and Andrew Ference as the second) have drawn the assignments of squaring off against the best opposing gunners.

It was no different last night, as Chara and Ward stared down Tampa Bay's No. 1 threesome of Vaclav Prospal, Vincent Lecavalier, and Martin St. Louis.

That, however, doesn't mean that Mark Stuart and Dennis Wideman can slack off whenever they're on the ice.

"Right now, we're trying to play well with the minutes we're given," said Stuart before last night's 4-1 win over Tampa Bay. "Just get out there, work hard, and make sure we're playing strong in our own end. [Wideman is] good at jumping up into the play and that's something he's going to continue to do. We have a good balance right now with that. We've got to make sure that no matter which line we're out there against, we have to try and keep the puck out of our own net."

Last night, Wideman was on the ice for Tampa Bay's goal, as a deflection off his stick led to a score by Brad Richards. But Stuart put himself on the positive side of the plus-minus category, joining an odd-man rush in the third period to score his first goal of the season.

On the play, Stuart noticed that he had a step on his backchecker. So while Marc Savard and Chuck Kobasew dashed down right wing, Stuart jumped into the play on the left side, where he was in the perfect spot for Savard's pass for a tap-in past goalie Johan Holmqvist at 9:49, making it 3-1.

"We encourage our defensemen to support the attack," coach Claude Julien said. "Part of the thing is you're looking at the scoreboard. Even as a coach, you're saying, 'Is this the right time for him?' It was. He scored a nice goal. He jumped up in the play, he was the third guy in, and we've been encouraging our D to support the attack. It's about picking the right time."

Sullivan comes home

In 2006-07, Mike Sullivan, after not being retained as Bruins coach by general manager Peter Chiarelli, kept busy, leading Team USA in the 2007 world championships, coaching a USA Hockey Under-17 team in Europe, and doing some radio commentary covering Boston University, his alma mater.

"Busiest unemployed guy around," Sullivan said.

So it was clear to the South Shore native that coaching was still the career path he wanted to follow.

"I love what I'm doing," said Sullivan, hired as an assistant to Lightning coach John Tortorella, also a Massachusetts native. "I love going to work every day and I love being a part of it. I understood going into the coaching profession what it was about and the reality of the business. With the downside, if you don't have success, you know what the ramifications are. I have a clear understanding of what this profession is about. Going in, I made a conscious choice and I haven't wavered one iota. I love what I do every day."

Sullivan is working primarily with the Tampa Bay defense. One of his biggest current charges is to help Dan Boyle, on injured reserve after wrist surgery, get back into game shape. During yesterday's morning skate, Sullivan put Boyle through an intense workout.

"Tough skate. Tough skate," Sullivan said. "We try and be selective on when we do it. But we're trying to prepare each and every one of them to be ready when the time comes."

Sudden impact

Milan Lucic, playing his first game at the Garden, wasted little time making his presence known. At 2:17 of the first period, Lucic, skating with David Krejci and Phil Kessel, dropped his gloves with Tampa Bay forward Nick Tarnasky.

Lucic got Tarnasky's helmet off and bopped the forward with a series of right hands before taking him down.

"Big kudos to Lucic," said Ference. "He's going to be a fan favorite."

Lucic skated 19 shifts for 11:08 of ice time. He didn't record a shot, but was involved in several odd-man rushes.

His father, Dobro, was delayed yesterday in Toronto while traveling to Boston from Vancouver, but arrived in the afternoon after taking a standby flight.

Reich sidelined

Jeremy Reich, a healthy scratch in the first five games, was the only Bruin not to skate yesterday morning. Julien said Reich had a minor injury and the team is being cautious with the winger . . . For two-plus seasons, Marc Savard played under Bob Hartley in Atlanta. So the Boston center was disappointed to learn about Hartley's firing after the Thrashers got off to an 0-6 start. "They lost last year in the playoffs and had a tough start, so I think it was a tough decision for them," Savard said. "They have the players, definitely. They have the guys who can win you hockey games. But it's tough nowadays. There are so many good teams." Julien, a French-Canadian like Hartley, has known the ex-Atlanta coach for many years and was confident he'll be back. "He'll bounce back and be somewhere else," Julien said.

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