Bruins defenseman David Tanabe knew what Phoenix left wing Ladislav Nagy was capable of. He and Nagy were teammates on the Coyotes and Tanabe had defended against Nagy's shifty moves plenty of times in practice.
Last night, though, they were opponents, and Nagy's shot from the top of the left circle at the 30-second mark of overtime nicked off Tanabe's skate before beating goalie Hannu Toivonen to the glove side as Phoenix edged the struggling Bruins, 2-1, at TD Banknorth Garden. Nagy, who started his charge in the Phoenix zone, came barreling up the ice and provided yet another disappointing end to Boston's night.
''He's a natural goal-scorer," said Tanabe, who was traded to Boston from Phoenix Nov. 18 for center Dave Scatchard. ''When he starts skating, he's got good speed and he comes off the cycle very well. He has the ability to really shoot the puck and you can't teach that. He generated a lot of speed through the neutral zone and I tried to keep my gap, I tried to stay up as much as I could.
''Hannu played unbelievable tonight for us. He played great and that's what we need, we need great goaltending. Again, we took too many penalties, but Hannu played great. That's the type of goaltending we need all year, and that'll help us get back in the position we need to be."
Toivonen made 30 stops, which were many more than Curtis Joseph had to handle. The Bruins' 19 shots were the fewest they'd generated this season. Of those, the defense was credited with eight. In the eight contests in which Boston has put 25 or fewer shots on goal, the team is 2-5-1.
''We've got to find a way to play with more energy, to play the uptempo game that we're trying to play," said coach Mike Sullivan. ''We had it in spurts but when we lose momentum, it seems to affect our mind-set and, once again, we've got to find a way to stay out of the penalty box. Speed is of the essence out there, whether it be individual speed or team speed, and it's tough to be successful if you don't play with it. Otherwise, you're going to be on your heels all night long. I think we've got to be better."
The Bruins' start was fine. They took a lead just 2:29 into the opening period, courtesy of a Brian Leetch tally. Patrice Bergeron was hauled down by Phoenix defenseman Zbynek Michalek at 1:06, giving Boston a power play, and it was Bergeron who set up the goal. He dished a pass from behind the net to Leetch, charging toward the net from the left circle. His shot squeaked between Joseph's pads.
At 9:26, the Coyotes thought they had tied it during the man advantage. With left wing Marco Sturm in the box for holding, Phoenix center Jamie Lundmark teed up a slapper from the right point. The puck went into the net but the officials ruled that Scatchard had backed into Toivonen and interfered with him and the goal was nullified.
The second period was all Coyotes, who outshot the Bruins by a whopping 15-6, as Boston stopped attacking and starting backing up to protect the scant lead. Toivonen was called on to stand on his head and he did.
One of the Coyotes' best bids was with 8:37 left. Left wing Geoff Sanderson had a strong chance in front but Toivonen kept it out.
With 2:31 remaining, the Bruins got a little lucky when a left point shot was redirected in front by center Boyd Devereaux. The puck went off Devereaux's stick and hit the left post. Rookie defenseman Milan Jurcina cleared it away.
Penalty trouble, once again, came back to cost the Bruins as the Coyotes tied the contest on their sixth man advantage of the night. Right wing Eric Nickulas, called up from Providence to take the place of Glen Murray, who was sidelined by the flu, was called for high sticking just 42 seconds into the third. Only 24 seconds later, right wing Mike Johnson jammed a rebound between the legs of Toivonen to pull his club even. That set the stage for overtime.
To a man, the Bruins said Toivonen deserved a better fate.
''I thought Hannu gave us a chance to win," said Sullivan. ''He was real good. I thought he made some key saves at critical times and kept us in the game."
But, again, it wasn't enough.