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BRUINS 3, LIGHTNING 2

Bergeron, Bruins take spark out of Lightning

TAMPA -- Perhaps it would be foolish to consider last night's match against the Tampa Bay Lightning a must-win game.

After all, before the puck dropped at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Bruins were a mere 60 minutes into the regular season.

But it was because the Bruins played the fool Friday, when they laid an 8-3 egg against the Florida Panthers, that last night's battle against Tampa Bay was so critical for a club branded fragile by their first-year coach.

If they were frail Friday, the Bruins (1-1-0) were stout last night in a 3-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 21,234 in the Lightning's home opener, refusing to fold despite giving away a two-goal lead. Patrice Bergeron, who committed a defensive-zone turnover in the second period that led to Tampa Bay's tying goal, took a pass from linemate Brad Boyes and beat goalie Marc Denis (22 saves) at 1:39 of the third period, roofing a close-range wrist shot over the netminder's glove.

``It's huge for us," acknowledged Paul Mara, part of a retooled blue line that needed a major overhaul after Friday's debacle. ``[Friday] night we didn't play with confidence. Tonight was a different story. Tonight's the way we have to play every game -- strong defense, great goaltending, and when we have the opportunities to score, we score."

Mara, playing with Zdeno Chara (he had skated with Brad Stuart Friday), was part of a defense that stood tall against the Lightning assault in the third period, keeping Tampa Bay off the scoreboard.

While Mara logged 26 minutes 46 seconds, the second-highest total on the team, his defensive partner had another heavy workload. Chara played a total of 33:33, killing off 1:30 of a Lightning power play late in the second period and hardly seeing the bench in the third period. The night before, Chara logged 29:52 against the Panthers.

``We know he's the best D-man in the whole league," said goalie Hannu Toivonen of Chara, who chipped in with two assists (four in two games). ``He makes my life a lot easier, the way he dominates every time he gets the puck. Every time he gets the puck, he gets it out or makes a play. He really doesn't make any dumb turnovers. It's just great for me to have a guy like that. He's clearly our leader."

But, naturally, the biggest reason for the Lightning's third-period goose egg was Toivonen (29 stops), who kept calm despite goalmouth traffic that the talented Tampa Bay forward corps -- aided by pinching defenseman Dan Boyle -- created.

Toivonen, who relieved Tim Thomas in Friday's forgettable affair, stopped all seven Lightning shots in the third, bookending a solid performance that he kicked off in the first period when he foiled forward Martin St. Louis's breakaway.

For Bergeron, the winning goal absolved a less-than-stellar showing on Friday when he misfired on six shots. It also erased the second-period turnover that came when he coughed up the puck to defenseman Filip Kuba after feeling pressure from a Tampa Bay forechecker.

With the Bruins leading (2-1) at the time, the Lightning tied it on the play. Toivonen stopped Kuba's shot, but forward Ryan Craig, jamming away in the crease, swatted home the rebound at 13:57.

Craig's strike, which came in the same period as a bad-angle score by forward Ruslan Fedotenko, wiped out Boston's two-goal lead. Wayne Primeau opened the game with a top-corner sizzler over Denis in the first period.

Then Boyes, angling for position with defenseman Paul Ranger in front of the net, redirected a Chara floater from the point at 13:19 of the first period. Phil Kessel recorded his first NHL point on the play, taking the puck off the wall and feeding it to Chara at the point.

After Bergeron's third-period goal, his first score of the season, the Bruins had a chance to extend their lead when Primeau picked defenseman Cory Sarich's pocket and zoomed in for a breakaway. Denis stopped Primeau's bid, prompting coach Dave Lewis to wonder whether the momentum had turned and the Lightning might find a way to tie the game.

Not this time.

``The thing that really impressed the coaches was that guys responded," said Lewis. ``They did the things you have to do to win hockey games. It's just one game, but it's good to see that. It's a good feeling to come out of a building in a home opener against a really good team and win a close hockey game. I like close hockey games."

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