The prettiest thing Shawn Thornton produced in Tuesday’s 6-2 thumping of the Panthers was a goal that will become legend upon its continual retelling.
In the third period, Thornton slashed through the Panthers in the offensive zone. Once the right-side wall impeded Thornton’s progress, the No. 4 right wing stomped on the brakes, popped off Tom Gilbert, danced around Brian Campbell, and snapped a backhander high blocker on Tim Thomas at 8:14 of the third.
The goal will become like the fish that every angler likes to catch: the one that keeps growing every time the bite is chronicled until it’s bigger than the pond it once called home.
“The highlight goal came tonight from a fourth-liner,” said coach Claude Julien. “So we’ve got to listen to this for the next week.”
The thing that Julien liked more than Thornton’s goal was his ice time. Thornton logged 12:03 of action, a welcome chunk of responsibility on the second leg of back-to-back games.
Julien could roll four lines because of the score, the third straight game in which the Bruins potted six goals. But the Bruins tabbed everyone in Tuesday’s win because just about everyone is playing well.
“We’ve been able to spread the ice time around a lot better than we have in the past,” Julien said. “That’s been good for everybody. We realize we’re in a stretch of playing four in six nights. When you have to play back-to-back games, it’s important to utilize your bench as much as you can when you have that luxury. We do. It’s been good for our team. It certainly hasn’t stopped anybody from producing.”
Thornton’s goal was the one in bold. It rivaled his penalty-shot snipe against Winnipeg’s Ondrej Pavelec two seasons ago.
“I don’t know if I want to pump his tires too much. He’s going to do that for himself,” cracked Tuukka Rask. “It was a nice goal. He wasn’t passing that puck. He wanted it against Timmy, especially.”
But the players wreaking most of the damage on their ex-teammate’s goals-against average were the Bruins’ best offensive weapons. David Krejci scored a goal and two assists. Milan Lucic scored two goals. Jarome Iginla added two assists.
Lucic even thought he had a third.
At 7:41 of the first, Lucic opened the scoring. After gaining net-front position on Gilbert, Lucic was in the right spot to tap home the rebound of an Iginla shot.
Later in the first, Lucic believed he had scored his second goal. Lucic was jostling in front with Dmitry Kulikov when Zdeno Chara floated an off-balance one-timer toward the net. Lucic thought the puck hit him in the chest, bounced off Thomas’s mask, and into the net. Lucic was originally credited with the goal. But review concluded that Chara’s shot didn’t hit Lucic before crossing the line.
So when Lucic scored once more early in the second to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead, several fans honored the achievement by tossing their hats onto the ice.
“I’m sure they’ll look at that one again,” Lucic said. “I felt something. Hopefully it is mine. If not, good shot by Z.”
The catalyst, as it usually is for the first line, was Krejci. The No. 1 center was on the ice for five of the team’s six goals. The only shot Krejci landed on goal snapped past Thomas. At 17:51 of the third, after picking off a clearing attempt, Krejci whistled a wrister over Thomas’s blocker.
Krejci was just as good at setting up his linemates. Krejci’s approach revolves on slowing down the game. It allows Krejci to look for plays, draw in opponents, and use his soft hands to connect through seams.
This time, Krejci mixed in some acceleration. Krejci played at high pace, which caused the Panthers to back off. The opening goal highlighted Krejci’s tenacity and creativity.
After gaining control of the puck in the defensive zone, the line had blitzed through center ice. Iginla left a drop pass for Krejci that skittered behind the center. Jonathan Huberdeau settled on the puck. Huberdeau should have cleared the zone. But Krejci, who had curled back, stripped Huberdeau of the puck and sent it back to Iginla. Moments later, Lucic had his first strike.
“The last six games, not only one line, but all four lines are putting the puck in the net,” Krejci said. “That’s good to see. We’d like to continue playing like that. We have five games left before the Olympic break. We’ll try to play the same way and try to get as many points as we can.”
The team’s only complaint was its second-period sag. Reilly Smith gave the Bruins a 4-0 lead with a power-play goal at 14:54. But Smith’s strike finally jolted the Panthers from their snooze. The Panthers shook out their skates and used their speed to put pucks on Rask (28 saves). Shots by Brad Boyes and Kulikov slipped past Rask.
“You could tell it started to be a run-and-gun game,” Chara said. “That’s what we have to be careful of and not fall for that.”’
But the Bruins played the third the right way. It’s why they have 11 points in their last six games.