Bruins center Alexei Zhamnov played his 800th National Hockey League game last night, suiting up against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the TD Banknorth Garden. But that number paled in comparison to another number -- the No. 1.
Zhamnov, playing his 17th contest of the season, potted his first goal in a Boston uniform and it held up as the winner as the Bruins knocked off the Leafs, 4-1.
It has been a painful season for the 35-year-old Zhamnov, who signed as a free agent over the summer. He missed the first 17 games because of an injury, then struggled to get his conditioning back when he returned. The last few games, Zhamnov had shown energy and touch but wasn't rewarded on the scoreboard.
Last night, finally, he was.
''I'm thrilled for him," said coach Mike Sullivan. ''It was a momentum boost for us."
Another boost was the four scorers -- Zhamnov, Travis Green, Wayne Primeau, and Brad Stuart. Green potted his first in 19 games and both Primeau and Stuart earned their first Boston goals since being traded from San Jose in the Joe Thornton deal.
''We've got to get contributions from every line and we've really got to consider that we're going to win a game, 2-1 or 3-2," said defenseman Brian Leetch, who had three assists. ''We're still going to need goals from everybody and the big saves. When you had the luxury of Joe Thornton, he could get 4 points a night or 3 points a night. We have a lot of guys who can create offensively, but it absolutely has to be spread out or we won't win for sure."
The first period started with the Maple Leafs allowing Boston only two shots in the first 12 minutes. But the last eight belonged to the Bruins. They got on the scoreboard late in the first on Green's tally. Just five seconds after Boston's power play expired, the Bruins capitalized on a strong feed by Glen Murray. Murray, positioned along the right-wing boards, fed Green at the inside edge of the right circle and his one-timer beat Mikael Tellqvist to the blocker side with 1:43 remaining on the clock.
It was Green's fourth of the season and his first since Nov. 3 against the Florida Panthers.
The Bruins thought they had a second goal with only two-10ths of a second left when a shot by Leetch found the back of the net. But it was not allowed because of a penalty to teammate Marco Sturm.
The Bruins made it hard on themselves in the second, giving up their second five on three after Green was whistled off at 5:13 on a double minor for high-sticking. Sturm was called for hooking at 7:48, giving the Maple Leafs a two-man advantage for 1:25, but goalie Hannu Toivonen (26 saves) came up big.
Patrice Bergeron generated a shorthanded bid when he stole the puck from defenseman Bryan McCabe and had a wraparound at the left post that Tellqvist denied at 9:19.
At 12:50, the Maple Leafs pulled even on a laser by former Bruin Mariusz Czerkawski. The goal was the result of a beautiful passing sequence, which started with McCabe and fellow blue liner Tomas Kaberle in the Toronto zone. From there, Darcy Tucker moved the puck to Mats Sundin, who relayed it to Czerkawski. Czerkawski's slapper from the top of the left circle beat Toivonen over the glove. It was Czerkawski's third goal in three games after being a healthy scratch for the previous eight games.
Zhamnov's goal came at 15:52, putting the Bruins back on top, 2-1. Leetch took a shot from the point that Tellqvist stopped, but Murray knocked the rebound to Zhamnov and he backhanded it in from the doorstep.
In the third, Primeau gave the Bruins breathing room when he snapped a shot from the left circle at 6:23, beating Tellqvist for his sixth of the season and his first since Nov. 26 against Detroit.
The Maple Leafs nearly got one back at 13:08 when center Matt Stajan took a shot that went between Toivonen's pads. In an effort to stop it, Toivonen dragged the puck backward onto the goal line but it didn't cross before he nudged the puck back out.
Stuart sealed the victory on the power play with 22.6 seconds left.
The rematch is tonight at the
''We've been looking at these two games all week, knowing they're important games for us," said Green. ''Tonight gets us a little closer. Tomorrow is another game, though. It doesn't mean as much tonight if we don't get tomorrow's."