Bruins 4, Thrashers 0

Bruins deliver a thrashing

Offense on target; Rask posts shutout

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 31, 2009

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Two teams headed in different directions - the Bruins to tomorrow’s Winter Classic and the Thrashers seemingly to a long winter’s slumber - spent 60 minutes at the Garden last night with their GPSs locked on their respective itineraries.

Backed by three first-period goals, all in a span of just over 10 minutes, the Bruins rolled to a 4-0 so-easy-a-caveman-could-do-it victory, their 20th of the season. The Thrashers, who cobbled together only 18 shots despite a game plan built on movement and shooting and shaking out the offensive trunk, ran their winless streak to six (0-5-1).

“We are not happy with it right now,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, who halfway through the season considers his squad a group of recovering workaholics. “Our record, it’s decent, but it’s not what we expect of ourselves. We’ve been asking, ‘What are we going to do about it and when are we going to start doing it?’ ’’

For one night anyway, the Bruins seemed to be closing in on some answers, gaining the early lead, rarely breaking down over the 60 minutes, not lapsing into lethargy and allowing their opponent to dictate play.

Byron Bitz, Marco Sturm, and Steve Begin combined for the first-period flurry of goals, the Thrashers unable to build any net-front resistance around starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec. When Begin struck for his at the 16:50 mark, tipping in a Derek Morris slapper sent from above the right circle, Johan Hedberg took over the chores in the Atlanta net.

Bitz scored on a top-of-the-crease deflection of a Matt Hunwick shot from the left half-wall and Sturm made an easy goal-mouth deposit of a Marc Savard slapper that all but took a puck-sized chunk of metal out of the right post.

The switch in net didn’t bring any spark to the Atlanta offense, but Hedberg did a far better job keeping his net clean, giving up only one goal on 20 shots. The Bruins finished only 1 for 5 on the power play, but they were far more proficient with the puck, making crisp and creative passes and generating shots that were legitimate scoring chances, even if some of them didn’t make it to the net.

Meanwhile, Tuukka Rask, en route to his second shutout this season, had a night that looked far less stressful than many practices. Of the 18 shots, he faced only a pair from star sniper Ilya Kovalchuk, the Thrashers displaying very little gumption once falling behind by the three-spot.

“I don’t think any game is an easy game,’’ said Rask, who ran his record to 10-3-2. “But if you can say any game is easy, this was in that category. Less than 20 shots. No breakaways. No three-on-two rushes. I saw almost every shot. As a goalie, you like that.’’

As a coach who has been looking for his team to get back its healthy work addiction, it was precisely what Julien has been asking for weeks but has seen only in spurts. After grinding their way to first place in the Eastern Conference last year, displaying an unremitting work ethic, they’ve too often been slow to start games in 2009-10 and often even slower to show the pluck and passion that made them one of the hardest teams to play against last season.

“We want to play 60 minutes,’’ said Savard, who picked up assists on the second and third goals, “because that’s what good teams do.’’

Patrice Bergeron, named to the Canadian Olympic team earlier in the day, added the final goal with 5:04 remaining in the second, potting a cross-slot pass from Mark Recchi only two seconds after a power play expired. Bergeron had the left side open, Recchi again finding a wide seam in that generous Atlanta game plan (which included ex-Bruin Marty Reasoner logging an ugly minus-3).

Atlanta coach John Anderson felt the night was not representative of how his team has played of late.

“We just threw a stinker up there,’’ he said. “I think Boston smelled a little blood. Give them credit, they played very hard and very well. We were the absolute opposite spectrum of that.’’

Kovalchuk at least showed a willingness to shoot. He landed only the two shots, neither a threat, but he fired a total of nine times (game high), with three of them blocked and four of them missing the net. Savard led the way for Boston, firing seven times, but missing with four and getting a pair blocked.

“We wanted to play 60 minutes,’’ said Sturm. “That’s what we were struggling with a little bit. Especially the last road trip [1-1 out of the Christmas break]. We probably only played 20 minutes pretty good, and that’s just not enough. You want to play the whole game and that’s what we did tonight.’’

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