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On rebound, Bruins get even with Atlanta

Marco Sturm is a popular man after scoring with 2:41left in the third to lift the Bruins to a 3-2 victory.
Marco Sturm is a popular man after scoring with 2:41left in the third to lift the Bruins to a 3-2 victory. (Globe Staff Photo / Justine Hunt)

After a disappointing loss to Carolina Wednesday night, coach Mike Sullivan said his team needed to find a way to get its power play working.

Last night the Bruins did, scoring their first goal on the man advantage in four contests and it held up in a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at TD Banknorth Garden.

With defenseman Greg deVries off for hooking at 16:37 of the third period, Brian Leetch skated down the left circle and put a shot on Thrashers goalie Kari Lehtonen. The rebound came back to Leetch and he fired again from below the left circle. This time, the shot caromed off Marco Sturm's skate and past Lehtonen at 17:19, lifting the Bruins to their first victory in four games. It was Boston's first goal on the man advantage in 14 opportunities.

Given that Atlanta is one of the Bruins' chief obstacles in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff spot, it was a very big 2 points as the Bruins drew even with the Thrashers. The teams are tied for ninth place with 60 points but are 4 points behind the Canadiens for the eighth and final playoff spot.

''The power play is really based on results, not really how many chances you get or how long you're in the zone," Leetch said. ''Tonight, a key time, a deflection off a skate, but in the end, it looks like your power play is the difference and it was. To get that win, [the Thrashers] would've been happy to go into overtime knowing they were getting 1 point, so for us to get it in regulation was great."

Sullivan elected to make a goalie change after starting Tim Thomas for 16 straight games. Andrew Raycroft got his first start since Jan. 12, the first time Raycroft felt completely healthy since late October. Early in the season, Raycroft battled a hamstring injury, then was the hard-luck loser during much of Boston's defensive troubles before general manager Mike O'Connell shook up the club by trading captain Joe Thornton.

When Hannu Toivonen suffered a high ankle sprain Jan. 5 against Ottawa, Raycroft injured his right leg in the next game. He struggled up to the Olympic break as Thomas carried the load. Raycroft was eager to get back into the mix and held up his end, making 20 saves. He didn't deny he wanted to make a statement, if simply to quell trade rumors.

''Then the questions get even worse if we can't find a way to win," said Raycroft. ''[And people are saying] he's definitely going [to another team] now. It could go both ways. It was just nice to win and not worry about it. If we keep winning, life is good."

Leetch was happy Raycroft earned his first victory since Jan. 7.

''Everyone is behind him and rooting for him to do well," said Leetch. ''We know we need him and he's pretty much good friends with everybody on the team, guys really care for him, so for him to go in and play well, it gave everyone confidence right from the start."

After a scoreless first period, the Bruins struck first on a goal by Glen Murray at 4:30 of the second. With the teams playing four a side, Wayne Primeau drove to the net but the puck bounced behind the net. Primeau chased it down and centered a pass to Murray, who swatted it into the net for his 18th tally of the season.

Much of the middle period was disrupted by a parade to the penalty box on both sides (14 minutes total) but Atlanta pulled even on the power play. At 6:20, star wing Ilya Kovalchuk fired a one-timer from atop the left circle that Raycroft stopped, but Peter Bondra was there for the rebound and tied the score at 1-1.

Less than two minutes later, however, the Bruins went back up by a goal. Veteran Tom Fitzgerald, who was a healthy scratch Wednesday night, scored on a hard-fought second effort. Fitzgerald, in the slot, tried to put the puck on net on his backhand, but it was blocked by deVries. The puck bounced right back to Fitzgerald, who switched to his forehand and beat Lehtonen at 8:05 for his third goal of the season.

Atlanta pulled even at 7:19 of the third period on a goal by Kovalchuk, his 38th. Kovalchuk, in the left circle, managed to get free from the clutches of Nick Boynton, took a pass from Marian Hossa, and fired the puck over Raycroft's glove. It was the Thrashers' first shot of the period. But Boston wound up with the last word.

''It's playoff hockey right now," said Fitzgerald. ''This is it. If you don't lay everything on the line, you don't have a postseason. This group in here has really proved a lot of people wrong, that we had no chance to be in the situation that we're in right now. We believed in one another and we believed in the system and we believed in what can happen."

It hasn't yet, of course. But it was a step in the right direction.

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