After a lousy December, the Bruins were hoping to turn over a new leaf to start the new year.
Last night, it was a team of Maple Leafs they turned over by a 3-2 score at the FleetCenter.
For the Bruins, it was payback for the embarrassment Toronto caused Dec. 4 when they were beaten by six goals and shut out on home ice for the third time this season. That started a 14-game skid that lasted the rest of the month (2-7-5).
Whether this is the beginning of a bona fide turnaround remains to be seen. For this night, anyway, Bruins captain Joe Thornton was all over the ice, playing on a new line with left wing Sergei Samsonov (back after a nine-game absence because of a knee injury) and 18-year-old Patrice Bergeron.
Coach Mike Sullivan decided to try new combinations and was successful. The trio combined for Boston's second goal and 11 shots on net.
"I thought Joe was real good tonight," said Sullivan. "Obviously, he realized the importance of this game. He played just as hard away from the puck as he did with it and when he does that, he's a dominant player. We felt as though it was time to break up the line [of Thornton, Mike Knuble, and Glen Murray] and try to give our team a different look and see what we could come up with. I know Joe has played with Samsonov in the past and has been successful. Bergeron thinks the game in a similar fashion to those guys with his offensive abilities and his ability to see the ice, so we thought we'd try them and I thought they were effective."
The Bruins came out strong, outshooting the Maple Leafs, 15-3, and taking a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. It wasn't all good news, however. At 13:46, the team lost veteran defenseman Dan McGillis, who was whistled off for a checking-from-behind major and a game misconduct for riding Leafs forward Alexei Ponikarovsky into the end boards. That forced the Bruins to play with five defensemen.
The Bruins struck late in the period when rookie defenseman Shaone Morrisonn potted his first NHL goal. Brian Rolston dropped a pass on the left side in the Toronto zone to Doug Doull. Doull, deep in the left circle, tried to put the puck on net but it was deflected. Marty Lapointe got to it in the left circle and he dished it from the faceoff dot to Morrisonn, who was atop the left circle. He didn't hesitate, firing a shot that eluded goalie Ed Belfour at 18:56. It was a milestone for Doull, too, as he earned his first NHL assist.
Morrisonn was victimized early in the second as the Maple Leafs fought back to tie it. Center Matt Stajan, positioned behind the Boston net, tried a wraparound at the right post and it caromed off the skate of Morrisonn past goalie Felix Potvin at 2:48.
Another rookie came to the rescue for the Bruins at 9:33, putting them back on top. Morrisonn made a terrific breakout pass to start the play. Thornton skated the puck up the right side and dished a backhander from the right circle to Bergeron in the slot. Bergeron beat Belfour with a forehand shot for his ninth tally of the year.
Thornton said he enjoyed playing on his new line.
"I played with Bergie one game and Sergei another game but I'd never played with them both together," he said. "They're both exciting players. It's going to bring a new dimension to my game. Usually with [Murray or Knuble], I usually stay a little bit closer. But [with the new linemates] I kind of stay away from them and make them beat a guy and just kind of get open."
Nick Boynton scored the eventual winner at 14:14 when he converted on a three-on-one to make it 3-1. Murray relayed a pass to Boynton, whose initial shot was from the slot. Belfour made the save but Boynton collected his own rebound on the doorstep and fired it up under the crossbar for his second goal of the season.
Gary Roberts's power-play goal at 10:58 of the third brought the Leafs as close as they'd come. No one in the Bruins' dressing room was getting too excited, but they're optimistic their slide will remain in their rearview mirror. New Year's Day has that effect on people.
"We just felt it was a new year," said Thornton. "And we played like it."