PITTSBURGH -- Last night before a sellout crowd of 16,958 fans at Mellon Arena, hardly anything went the way coach Dave Lewis scribbled up his game plan.
Starting goalie Brian Finley? Out after 20 minutes because of a pulled groin.
Backup Tim Thomas, given the night off to recuperate from a face plant on Monday, courtesy of Florida forward Joe Nieuwendyk's bowling-ball routine? In for 40 minutes, overtime, and the shootout.
The Bruins' two-goal lead in the third period? Gonzo.
But for all that, despite losing a 3-1 advantage in the third period to the run-and-gun Pittsburgh Penguins, who were without superstud Sidney Crosby, the Bruins edged out a 4-3 shootout victory.
Marco Sturm, who netted a goal in the second period, scored the only strike of the shootout, beating Marc-Andre Fleury (28 saves, several of the dazzling variety) with a backhander between the pads.
On the other end, Thomas, who said he was originally given the night off partially because of the collision with Nieuwendyk -- hinting at another undisclosed injury -- foiled Michel Ouellet, Evgeni Malkin, and Sergei Gonchar in the shootout.
"Once I got started, I felt good," said Thomas (16 saves on 18 shots).
Finley, who started his first game of the season, looked solid in the first period, stopping six of seven shots, the lone goal coming when forward Mark Recchi picked the upper-left corner of the net with an off-wing wrister.
But at 12:42 of the first period, Finley, who's had a history of groin setbacks, suffered his injury. On the play, forward Erik Christensen slipped behind the Boston defense for a partial breakaway. At the last moment, Christensen was tripped up by Mark Stuart, playing in his first game of the season, and went barreling into Finley.
Finley, slow to his skates, tried to stretch out his groin for the rest of the period. But Finley had a feeling he wasn't fit to return to action. From the runway at the other end of the rink -- the benches at Mellon Arena are too small to accommodate the backup goalie -- Thomas began his stretching routine, anticipating that Finley wouldn't be able to go.
Lewis said Finley will be re-evaluated today. If he's not ready for tomorrow's game against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins would most likely recall Philippe Sauve from Providence.
Thomas started the second period with his club down 1-0. But his teammates scored three straight second-period goals to claim a 3-1 lead. Stanislav Chistov scored his first goal as a Bruin when he took a pass from Marc Savard and tapped in a close-range power-play shot at 10:02.
Sturm scored at 12:18 to give Boston a 2-1 lead, and the Bruins extended their advantage when Zdeno Chara blasted a power-play one-timer at 14:24. The Bruins were given a four-minute power play when Pittsburgh forward Jarkko Ruutu took a double minor when he roughed up Shean Donovan.
But the Bruins, who won yet another one-goal decision, couldn't put the game out of reach in the third period when they had 11 shots. The Penguins had Fleury to thank, as the netminder sparkled in the clutch. On one rush, Fleury first stopped a shot by Wayne Primeau, then lunged to his left to get his glove on Donovan's rebound attempt.
Meanwhile, Malkin (27 shifts, 26:14 of ice time, a game-high seven shots) took over the game in the third period. He was called for holding at 7:56, but the Russian star stepped out of the penalty box just in time to handle the puck and take off for a break on goal. After several fakes, Malkin fired a forehand through Thomas to make it a 3-2 game. On the other end, the Bruins nearly scored their fourth goal on a goalmouth scramble that saw Glen Murray get blasted from behind as he tried to jam home the puck.
Then with Andrew Alberts in the box for hooking -- he drew the call while trying to slow down a charging Malkin -- the Penguins scored a six-on-four goal with 29.3 seconds remaining in regulation. Malkin, parked in the slot, whipped a pass to the right circle for Recchi, who tapped a backhander into the net for his second goal and game-tying strike.
In overtime, both goalies kept their clubs in the game. From behind the Pittsburgh net, Savard threw a pass out for Murray, who got a good shot on goal. But Fleury slid from right to left to snuff out Murray's shot.
Then with time ticking away, Malkin -- who else? -- got behind Chara for a clean look on Thomas. Malkin, who played the best game of his young career according to coach Michel Therrien, threw several fakes and slid a forehand shot on goal. But Thomas, determined not to let Malkin score once more, sprawled on his stomach and flashed his right pad, trapping the puck against the right post.
"I had a half-second to decide whether to go out and try and get it, then I saw there were two [Penguins]," Thomas said. "I made a split-second decision not to because they might get the puck to the other guy. Then I had another half-second to realize it was Malkin. There was no way I was going to let this kid ruin my whole day. He already got the breakaway and made a good shot. I really didn't want to give up the game-winner."