There were three keys to the Bruins rallying from a 3-0 deficit to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4, yesterday at the FleetCenter.
No. 1 -- Center Brian Rolston potted a goal with 1:12 left in the first period to make it 3-1.
No. 2 -- Defenseman Nick Boynton delivered a heavy hit in the second period, which resulted in a power play and the Bruins' fourth goal to make it 4-3.
No. 3 -- The play of center Michael Nylander, who scored the winning goal and set up two others.
The victory, the club's seventh in 10 games, gave the Bruins 95 points and moved them within 2 of the Lightning in the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
"[Rolston's goal] at the end of the first was huge," said defenseman Sean O'Donnell. "There's a big difference between [being down by] two or three goals. Nick's hit got the crowd even more into it and the fact that we scored on the power play right after that. Then the play of Nylander. [Today] was an example of him taking over."
All's well that ends well, but the first period was a nightmare for Boston. Pavel Kubina, Dave Andreychuk, and Fredrik Modin potted goals at 3:08, 15:06, and 18:08, respectively. The Bruins were awful in their own zone and kept committing turnovers.
"Once again, the start plagued us," said coach Mike Sullivan. "It's certainly an area we've addressed and we can't seem to remedy that but that will be an area we continue to address to make sure we fix that problem coming down the stretch here."
Their fortunes began to turn around late in the period when defenseman Cory Sarich spilled Bruins captain Joe Thornton into the boards. There was no penalty, but it seemed to wake up the home club.
"Any time Joe gets involved physically, he's such a big, strong guy and obviously being our best player, the rest of our guys take notice," said Sullivan. "We want to be a team that uses its size and strength to our advantage. I thought after that hit, our team engaged themselves a little more physically."
It was Rolston's goal at 18:48 that put the Bruins back on track.
Defenseman Dan McGillis took a shot from the left point that Marty Lapointe tried to tip in. Nikolai Khabibulin made the stop but Rolston was there to bury the rebound. It was his first goal in 13 games and No. 19 for the season. He said he hadn't been pressing, but it felt good to get it.
"When you do get frustrated, sometimes it makes it worse," said Rolston. "I've learned over the years to relax, go out there and skate, and things happen. I definitely score in streaks."
Travis Green pulled the Bruins within a goal at the 31-second mark of the second. The Lightning attempted to clear the puck out of the zone but Nylander got his stick on it and it went right to Green in the right circle. He drilled a one-timer into the net to make it 3-2. At 2:01, defenseman Sergei Gonchar, who was victimized early and often in the first period, brought his team all the way back when he scored from the left circle over the netminder's glove.
At 6:49, Boynton delivered an open-ice hit to Dimitry Afanasenkov that resulted in a Boston power play when former Bruin Tim Taylor retaliated. Thornton scored as a result of a beautiful backhand pass from Nylander at 7:11.
The Lightning answered with Modin's second goal at 9:30 but Nylander put it away at 2:52 of the third when he broke in alone and beat Khabibulin to the stick side from the slot. Nylander, who was playing his eighth game in a Boston uniform since being dealt from Washington, was the talk of the dressing room.
"He's a nice player to play with, boy," said Green. "I haven't played with a guy like him, maybe ever really. Ziggy Palffy could really find you but [Nylander] is a great playmaker. I haven't seen a guy who finds you on your backhand as well as him, that's for sure."
As relieved as they were to earn the 2 points, the Bruins are very aware that they can't continue to tempt fate. The fans may love it but the coach loathed it.
"I think this team has shown throughout the course of the year that we're never out of the hockey game, regardless of what the score is," said Sullivan. "One of the strengths of this team so far has been the ability to come back from deficits.
"We certainly don't want to make a habit of it because in the long run, it's not easy to come back from two- and three-goal deficits and expect to end up in the win column. We certainly want to be a team that's better off the drop of the puck, and it's an area we continue to talk about to find solutions."