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Bruins 4, Panthers 0

Hats off

Lucic (three goals) and Rask (first win) lift Bruins

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By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / November 19, 2010

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Throwback night on Causeway Street.

Milan Lucic looked and acted like the unstoppable behemoth he was a couple of years ago, connecting for three goals — two of them 15 seconds apart late in the third period — leading the Bruins to a 4-0 win over the Florida Panthers last night at the Garden.

Tuukka Rask, previously without a win this season, snuffed out 41 shots (14 by David Booth) and looked every bit the confident, airtight goaltender he was last season when he won 22 games as a rookie. It was Rask’s seventh career shutout, and with Tim Thomas’s four, it was the fifth this season for the distant sons of Frank Brimsek.

And then there was the Garden crowd itself, all 17,565 of them, hootin’ and hollerin’ as they sent scores upon scores of hats cascading to the ice with 5:03 to play in celebration of Lucic’s hat trick. Reminiscent of Garden days of old when the Gallery Gods heaved their hearts and fedoras at Rick Middleton’s feet.

“It’s been a while since I scored a regular-season goal at home,’’ noted Lucic, who now has 10 goals, one more than he scored all last season when he was hindered by a bad ankle. “Kind of nice to get that monkey off my back.’’

Lucic, if he could keep the pace, might break 40 goals this season, more than the 34 he collected his first three years in the NHL.

The victory, the third straight for the Bruins, was centered on patience, penalty killing, and Rask’s niggardly backstopping. Lucic potted the 1-0 lead with 4:23 remaining in the first, sniping in a sharp wrister from the right circle on a quick exchange with linemate Nathan Horton (his name on all three Lucic goals), and it looked like that strike might be the night’s only tally.

Before the late scoring explosion, which also included a Shawn Thornton (No. 4) insurance goal, the Bruins needed to kill five Florida power plays. They also needed to withstand an overall attack that saw the Panthers attempt 68 shots. It was the third time this season the Bruins have yielded more than 40 shots on goal.

“Booth probably has sore arms with 14 shots,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, his club hanging tough with the best in the Eastern Conference. “If they want to shoot from everywhere, hey, that’s fine with us.’’

But it’s also true, for one night, that the opposition had the greater number of quality scoring chances over the first 50 minutes. The Panthers probably will miss the playoffs for a 10th straight season, but they are a more talented, more focused team now under general manager Dale Tallon (he who constructed Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup winner). Rask made 8-10 excellent stops, including a shorthanded bid by Bryan Allen with 6:16 gone in the third that would have knotted it 1-1. Only 21 seconds earlier, Christopher Higgins broke in all alone with a Dennis Wideman feed and was denied by Rask’s blocker.

“This game was mostly for Tuukka,’’ said Lucic. “We wanted to go out there and give a good effort for him. Such a great guy. Such a great goaltender. We’re happy to get it for him.’’

Lucic, in his postgame interview, wore a cheesy fedora with a plaid print, not a hat culled from the crowd’s offerings. It made its way to the dressing room days ago, originally the property of rookie winger Brad Marchand, and rested for days in the players’ lounge. Its owner apparently was glad to leave it behind, and it was ultimately veteran forward Mark Recchi who picked it up and autographed it on a whim.

“When Rex signed it, the rest of us figured we should, I guess,’’ said defenseman Johnny Boychuk, who made his way back into the lineup after missing three weeks with a fractured forearm. “And now Looch is wearing it. Go figure.’’

Lucic potted the 2-0 lead with 5:18 left in the third, snapping one to the top left corner from the right circle. To complete his magic trick 15 seconds later, he trailed behind linemates Patrice Bergeron and Horton, tapping in a loose puck after Tomas Vokoun just managed to stop Horton’s doorstep attempt. No tooling around gingerly on a bad ankle this year. Lucic gets to the open places and is shooting more as a first option.

“When he’s got the puck, he’s going straight forward with it,’’ noted Julien. “And he’s creating some room for his teammates. When he’s got an opportunity to take his shot, he’s taking it.’’

All in a summer’s work, said Lucic. He spent the offseason sharpening his shot, focusing on a quicker release.

“And talking to Rex about it, too,’’ he said. “It’s getting to those soft areas, getting to open spaces on the ice. Rex has 500-something goals, so you have to listen to him, right? And you look at Brett Hull, one of the game’s greatest scorers . . . he was great at getting open and getting rid of the puck with that lightning speed. I’m not saying I’m Brett Hull, but those are the kind of things I’m working on . . . I want to continue to get better.’’

For one night, the Lumbering Looch channeled the Golden Brett. Hats off to that. And if he keeps undressing goalies, no telling how willing the Garden crowd will be to strip down in kind. Ain’t nothing more throwback than a bit of burlesque.

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