Bruins dig in, win in shootout
Blowing late lead doesn’t faze them
ATLANTA - The 2-0 second-period lead? Gone. The 3-2 advantage with less than a minute remaining in regulation? Wiped out, thanks to a Maxim Afinogenov goal at 19:18.
But unlike other games in which the woe-is-us Bruins tucked their tails when adversity approached, the Black-and-Gold bunch decided last night against the Atlanta Thrashers that they were fed up with losing.
“I just thought, ‘We’ve been losing those games so much in the past that I don’t want it to happen again,’ ’’ said goalie Tuukka Rask, a late stand-in for Tim Thomas. “I was just trying to make sure we got to the shootout. It’s a 50-50 chance to win there.’’
Rask, starting his second straight game, shook off Afinogenov’s goal, then in overtime, Rask stopped three Atlanta shots. Then in the shootout, he foiled Rich Peverley, Slava Kozlov, and Ilya Kovalchuk.
At the other end, Patrice Bergeron scored the only goal of the shootout. As the leadoff shooter, he jerked to the forehand, causing Ondrej Pavelec to bite hard. Bergeron then tucked the puck into the open net to lead the Bruins to a 4-3 shootout win before 12,112 at Philips Arena.
“That goal in the end could have been a killer,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “But our guys decided that we weren’t going to let that beat us down. We were going to find some way to win, and Tuukka came up big in the shootout.’’
Thomas participated in yesterday’s morning skate and didn’t appear to be in any discomfort. He was also on the ice for pregame warm-ups and made some acrobatic saves at the end of warm-ups.
“It’s a minor undisclosed injury,’’ said Julien. “We were better with Tuukka in tonight. We’ll see how it is [today]. But it’s short-term.’’
The late goaltending switch was one of several moves the coaching staff made yesterday. Milan Lucic returned to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 16 and lined up with Steve Begin and Byron Bitz on the No. 3 line.
But the more significant change was altering the second and third defensive pairings. After a long discussion, Julien and assistant coach Craig Ramsay decided that Dennis Wideman would be more effective playing with Andrew Ference than Matt Hunwick.
“We both felt that maybe separating those two offensive-minded defensemen and putting a more defensive-minded defenseman with Wides would allow him to go up the ice and make some offensive plays,’’ Julien said. “And maybe take a little pressure off Hunwick and put him with a more stay-at-home defenseman as well. Then he could go up the ice.
“I thought both responded well. Give them credit for that. But [Ference and Mark Stuart] need credit, too, for adjusting to two new guys. I thought our pairings tonight were well-balanced.’’
Wideman, who had been struggling with his skating and decision-making, responded with one of his best games of the year. He logged two assists and was on the ice for 28:03, most of any Bruin, while blocking a game-high three shots.
In the first, after Marco Sturm tipped a Mark Recchi feed past Pavelec at 5:59, Wideman helped give the Bruins a two-goal cushion. Instead of ripping a shot from the right point, he waited for Blake Wheeler to find some space in the high slot. Wideman dished the puck to Wheeler, whose shot was tipped past Pavelec by Michael Ryder at 18:11.
Then in the second, after Atlanta had wiped out Boston’s 2-0 lead (a Nik Antropov tip of a Tobias Enstrom shot, then a signature power-play cannon by Kovalchuk), Wideman was involved in another Ryder goal, this time on the power play.
With Peverley serving a hooking penalty, the league-worst power play made the Thrashers pay when Ryder took a pass from David Krejci and flipped a bad-angle shot on goal. Pavelec (39 saves), who stood tall for most of the night, was deep in his net, not positioned correctly to stop Ryder from going high on the short side at 16:45 of the third.
It was Ryder’s first multi-goal game of the season. Before last night, he had scored only one goal in the last 12 games.
“We didn’t have quite the jump in the second,’’ said Wideman, who recorded the secondary assist on Ryder’s goal. “We let them back in the game. Then we took way too many penalties.’’
Only 75 seconds into the final period, Sturm was sent off for tripping. At 3:21, Recchi was nabbed for interference. Less than a minute later, Ryder went off for hooking. At 11:46, Wheeler crashed into Pavelec and was whistled for goaltender interference, then Wideman completed the five-penalty third by taking a hooking infraction at 14:09.
But every time, Rask and the penalty kill foiled the Atlanta power play, which was ranked No. 4 in the league. Twelve of the Thrashers’ 35 shots came on the power play, but only Kovalchuk’s second-period hammer found the back of the net. The Bruins have killed off 45 of the last 47 opposing power plays (95.7 percent).
“PK stepped up and did a great job,’’ Wideman said. “Tuukka played great and made some unbelievable saves.’’
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.