Bruins shine brightly
A polished effort brings decisive win
In search of a remedy for melancholy, the Bruins found just the elixir last night in the form of the Florida Panthers, who arrived in town with a first-bend-then-break defense and with their goaltender, Craig Anderson, serving up rebounds like a human Pitch-Back.
When the night was over on Causeway Street, the Bruins could boast a 6-1 win - their largest margin of victory in nearly three months - and rookie winger Byron Bitz could say that he had the near-sellout crowd of 16,781 chanting his name in the final moments, hoping that the strapping kid from Saskatoon (with a Cornell business degree stashed in his equipment bag) could polish off his first career hat trick.
"Amazing," said a wide-eyed and smiling Bitz, he of the No. 4 crash-and-bang line. "Just amazing."
Bitz finished one goal shy of the hat trick - with the second and third strikes of his career - and a dozen of the Black-and-Gold's 18 skaters factored on the scoresheet as the Bruins emerged from a fog in which they had only won once (1-4-2) in their previous seven games.
"That's what we needed after our road trip," said Patrice Bergeron, who kicked off the Boston scoring with an unassisted strike only 48 seconds after the opening faceoff. "A big effort."
They found their scoring shoes (goals by Bergeron, Mark Stuart, Bitz, Aaron Ward, and a returning Michael Ryder), and they also found their presence. To wit:
Milan Lucic landed a game-high five hits (equaled by Florida's Nick Tarnasky), perhaps an indication that the second-year winger is regaining his physical form that made him a terrorizing force in the first half of the season - a force that was instrumental in the club's overall confidence and success.
They were committed to forcing pucks to the net. They landed 39 on Anderson, but they also took 29 more that either were blocked or went off net. Overall, they outshot the Panthers, 68-51, with only 25 of Florida's shots making their way on net.
Tim Thomas, who lost three of previous four outings, allowed a lone strike by Kamil Kreps, who cut Boston's lead in half, 2-1, with 6:26 to go before the first intermission. Overall, Thomas had a relatively easy night, stopping 24 shots, rarely dealing with much sustained pressure in the slot or around his crease. A big credit to his defensive corps.
In possession of a 3-1 lead to start the third, the Bruins did not allow the Panthers back in the game, keeping up the pressure and scoring twice (Bitz's second of the night, followed by Ward) within the first six minutes. They were careful not to lapse into their conservative, non-attack mode that had cost them games of late.
"It's a 3-1 game there, and we've had our issues in the past with protecting leads," said Julien. "It was important for us to go out and play our best period of the game."
Peter DeBoer, the man behind the Florida bench, noted that his team's defense was uncharacteristically spotty, calling it "one of those nights."
"You have to play 82 games in a season," added DeBoer, a rookie in the NHL who has done a fine job of getting the Panthers back in gear this season. "You're going to have some good ones and some bad ones. We'll burn the tape and keep moving forward here."
The bad began early, with star defenseman Jay Bouwmeester coughing up the puck to Bergeron on Florida's right wing, behind the blue line. Bergeron zipped in for the first piñata strike on Anderson at 0:48.
Less than six minutes later, Stuart muffed a shot low in the slot with ex-Bruin Nick Boynton backing in toward Anderson. When Boynton failed to tie him up, Stuart recovered the puck and backhanded it in an open right side.
The tone was set. Florida cut the lead in half before the period ended, but then Bitz knocked home his first of two with the only goal in the second period to make it 3-1. Parked off the left post, the towering Bitz provided an expert tip to a Stephane Yelle wrister than came out of the left corner.
Bitz was back with No. 2 only 3:24 into the third when Yelle hammered in a long slapper from just inside the blue line, with Anderson coughing up the juicy rebound to his left for the oncoming Bitz to swat in for the 4-1 lead.
"We're trying to get our game back in order," said Julien. "If you will, we are trying to fine-tune it."
Ward and Ryder (power-play goal) rounded out the scoring. In the final moments, with the Bruins working a power play, Bitz briefly lined up at Ryder's spot on the power play, Julien hoping the rookie could complete the trick.
"He deserved it," said Ryder. "He played a great game tonight - one of the big reasons we won."