Bruins 2, Panthers 1

Strong finish by Thomas, Bruins

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 28, 2009

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SUNRISE, Fla. - Yesterday’s game started horribly for Tim Thomas.

At 4:09 of the first period, Dominic Moore turned and fired a sharp-angle shot on net that somehow dribbled between Thomas’s pads for the first goal of the game.

“One of those ones you hate,’’ Thomas said. “You think you’ve got everything taken away. As a goalie, you’re just supposed to let it hit you. All of a sudden, it finds a little tiny hole. That’s hockey. I was set. I wasn’t fooled. I knew he was shooting at me. I was trying to squeeze every little hole. But somehow it found a hole.’’

But as bad as Thomas looked on his gift to Moore, the netminder bailed out the Bruins by making his final save his best of the night to preserve a 2-1 win before 18,799 at the BankAtlantic Center.

With less than five seconds remaining, the Panthers nearly tied the game when a Derek Morris giveaway to Stephen Weiss led to Jordan Leopold getting an open look from the slot. Thomas, however, made sure Leopold’s blast hit his glove instead of the back of the net.

“You’re hoping everything goes as planned, but that isn’t always the way it works out,’’ said Thomas. “I think it bounced off a shinpad right to one of their guys, right to the open guy in the slot. I was just trying to stay with the puck as well as possible. Fortunately I was able to get a glove on it.’’

Leopold never should have gotten his opportunity. With 21 seconds remaining, Moore was sent to the box for clipping Michael Ryder. But Kamil Kreps won the defensive-zone faceoff against Patrice Bergeron. The Panthers marched up the ice, took the puck away from Morris, and allowed Leopold to rip off a high-quality shot - all that after the Bruins failed to put the puck into an empty net after Scott Clemmensen was pulled in the final minute.

“You’ve got a power play and a faceoff in their own end,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Tonight we struggled in the faceoff circle. Our centers have to take that blame. We have to be better in the faceoff circle. Second of all, we could have been better coming back to help and support. When they get the puck, you expect your guys to react a little quicker. There’s no way that guy should be able to slide in there. There’s at least two or three mistakes in the last 20 seconds that we need to realize and get better at.’’

In the second period, the Bruins wiped out Thomas’s early gaffe. Following a neutral-zone faceoff, Johnny Boychuk sent a hard rim around the boards. Blake Wheeler fished the puck off the left wall and dished it back to the point. At the same time, Ryder went hard to the crease, stopped short, and put a screen on Clemmensen. As Wheeler’s feed arrived, Andrew Ference stepped into the puck, saw that he had a teammate in front (“You just see the jersey,’’ said the defenseman), and ripped a shot on goal that Ryder tipped past Clemmensen at 16:02 for his 10th goal.

“When the puck comes out like that, you can lean into it pretty good,’’ said Ference. “For Rydes to get a tip on that was key. Usually they don’t go in without the tip. He stood in there and got his stick perfectly on it. Great goal.’’

In the third period, Marco Sturm netted the winning goal. The play started in the defensive zone when Dennis Wideman won a puck battle, turned, and cleared the puck off the wall. Marc Savard settled the carom and shuttled the puck up the boards to Sturm on the right side.

Sturm then pulled off one of his signature moves - sprinting down the right side, then cutting against the grain and darting into the middle. By doing so, Sturm pulled away from Keith Ballard and found a seam in center ice.

“I wanted to get it to [Steve] Begin on the other side,’’ said Sturm. “But I caught [Ballard] really good there. I tried to get some speed and got the lucky bounce. For whatever reason, I’ve always liked to go inside. As a lefty, it’s much easier for me because I can stick my leg out much better and I can skate better. It’s always been that way.’’

After splitting Ballard and Leopold, Sturm launched a wrister on goal. The puck bounced off the right-side bar. Then off the left post. Then off Clemmensen’s pad and into the net at 4:39.

“Post, post, then back of his leg,’’ said Sturm of his team-leading 11th goal. “I will take it.’’

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