Bruins take advantage
Power-play goals fuel victory over Thrashers
It was not a sight that any goaltender likes to see - Ilya Kovalchuk dangling down the left wing with just one forward to beat.
Especially for Tim Thomas last night, considering the Thrashers had wiped out a 3-0 first-period deficit by potting two quick-strike goals of their own, and Kovalchuk was threatening to send the game into the first intermission in a 3-3 tie. Kovalchuk slipped behind David Krejci, saw lots of room above Thomas’s glove, and loaded his deadly wrister for a top-shelf goal.
After baiting Kovalchuk to go high, Thomas flashed out his mitt and closed his left hand around the shot to keep the Bruins ahead by a 3-2 score. Just as important, Thomas made it known to the Thrashers that things weren’t going to be that easy.
“At that point, I was thinking of sending them a message,’’ said Thomas. “This is going to stop. We’re going to win this game one way or the other.’’
Turned out the Bruins needed every save Thomas could give them. They stretched their one-goal lead to a 5-2 cushion by the third period. But the Thrashers rallied once more to make it a one-goal game before Patrice Bergeron scored an empty-netter with 3.5 ticks remaining to close out a 6-4 win before 17,565 at TD Garden.
“Bottom line is that we needed two wins before Christmas, and we got them,’’ Mark Recchi said. “A lot of positives happened the last two games. We’ll enjoy our Christmas break now.’’
The Thrashers, led by Kovalchuk, are one of the most dangerous offensive teams in the league. They proved it by turning a pair of three-goal Boston leads into the thinnest of margins.
In the first period, the Bruins put three pucks behind starter Ondrej Pavelec in a 68-second span. Marc Savard scored an in-tight power-play goal at 9:44, getting Pavelec moving by faking a pass to Marco Sturm, then roofing one over the goalie’s blocker. Daniel Paille doubled the lead by going backdoor, taking a pass from Recchi, and tapping a shot past Pavelec at 10:32. Twenty seconds later, the Bruins completed the onslaught when Vladimir Sobotka took a saucer pass from Shawn Thornton and beat Pavelec, chasing the starting netminder after only eight shots on goal.
“It was an act of saving our goalie so he could keep his sanity in there,’’ said Atlanta coach John Anderson.
But the Thrashers kicked off a first-period comeback. First, Zdeno Chara gave away the puck to Maxim Afinogenov, who then found Bryan Little open on the left side. Thomas couldn’t handle Little’s slap shot at 14:44. The Thrashers scored their second after Kovalchuk blew past Chara on the right wing and sent the puck out front. With no Bruins backcheckers in sight, Afinogenov found Kovalchuk’s pass and threaded a shot between Thomas’s pads at 17:28 of the first.
“They’re a highly skilled team,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “They score a lot of goals. You have to respect that. At the same time, I don’t think we were on top of our game defensively. A couple of goals in the slot, we didn’t have good sticks. We’re usually better than that.’’
In the second period, Chara redeemed himself by scoring a five-on-three goal (Colby Armstrong and Marty Reasoner were in the box to give the Bruins a two-man advantage for 1:45). Savard had the puck deep in the right corner and drew Ron Hainsey and Rich Peverley to his side. With the Atlanta penalty killers leaning one way, Savard went up top to Chara, who wound up for one of his trademark slap shots. Peverley got back in time to get a piece of Chara’s blast, but the captain’s shot got through and beat Johan Hedberg at 2:14, giving the Bruins a 4-2 lead.
“Really good patience by Savvy,’’ said Chara. “He drew out two guys - both of them to him, then he made a nice pass to me. I just shot it and it got deflected. But it probably would have gone in anyway.’’
Michael Ryder added a third-period power-play goal to give the Bruins, who went 3 for 5 on the power play, a 5-2 lead. But the Thrashers weren’t ready to roll over. At 13:58, Evander Kane found a seam in the slot, took a pass from Todd White, and beat Thomas. Then, with the Bruins caught up ice, Afinogenov connected with Kovalchuk to spring the sniper for a breakaway on Thomas. With Thomas thinking he was going upstairs, Kovalchuk instead found an opening between the goalie’s pads to pull the Thrashers to within one goal.
But as he’s done so often this season, Bergeron won a defensive-zone draw in the final minute, this time against Peverley with 12.2 seconds remaining. Bergeron was rewarded for the faceoff win when he carried the puck up the ice and sailed a shot into an empty net with 3.5 seconds left on the clock.
“Obviously, we didn’t play as well defensively tonight as we normally do,’’ Recchi said. “But at the same time, we found a way to win a hockey game. That’s the bottom line right now.’’