SUNRISE, Fla. — The Bruins chose the road not taken here Tuesday night and, oddly, it made all the difference.
They played a very poor first period.
“A really bad start,’’ noted coach Claude Julien.
Their sloppy puck management, particularly in the early going, forced them to kill no fewer than seven penalties. In seven of 10 games thus far, they have been shorthanded four times or more.
“I am not saying our penalites are alarming,’’ added the coach. “But we need to fix it.’’
But despite all that, normally a recipe for disaster, they skipped out of the BB&T Center with a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers, backed by superb work in net by Tuukka Rask (33 saves) and a small, eclectic collection of goals by Brad Marchand (penalty shot) and Dominic Moore (shorthanded).
All in all, they had to kill 14 minutes shorthanded (and rarely allowed the Panthers a shot while doing it), they scored neither at even strength nor on the power play (now a league-worst 2 for 32 on the power play). Goaltending, though, often can make all the difference, and Rask turned in his best performance of the season, not giving up a goal until rookie Denis Malgin dented him with 4:35 remaining in regulation.
“[Rask’s] the main reason,’’ offered Julien, “that we are standing here with 2 points.’’
The win, their second straight, lifted the Bruins back over .500 (5-4-0) and again restored some of the confidence that was lacking in their recent skid of three straight losses (by a collective 14-4). They have now scored the first goal in three straight games, after opening the first six games of the season by giving up the first goal — something they had not done at the start of a season since 1954-55. Like the road not taken, playing with a lead also can make all the diff.
The only thing the Bruins did right over the opening 20 minutes: They scored the period’s lone goal.
Marchand, hauled down in front of the net by ex-Bruin Reilly Smith at the 3:53 mark, was awarded a penalty shot, and the L’il Ball O’Hate converted it for the 1-0 lead. Starting deep in his own end, Marchand picked up the puck at center ice, barreled in, and beat Roberto Luongo with a snap backhand roof shot to the top left corner.
It was the third and last shot the Bruins landed on net for the remaining 16:07 of the period. The Panthers held a 13-3 shot edge for the period, in which they failed to land a shot in four minutes of power-play action.
“We definitely didn’t play good,’’ said Marchand, referring to the choppy, disjointed start. “We were kind of doing it to ourselves, turning too many pucks over — that’s when you start to get in trouble. I don’t think they were doing anything special. It was more of us not taking care of the puck.’’
Marchand took perfect care of his shot on the goal, sniping the shot over Luongo’s glove hand.
“I thought I would be . . . I had a pretty good scoring chance,’’ said Marchand, convinced he would be awarded the free shot when hauled down by Smith. “I didn’t get a shot off [because of Smith], so . . . that’s the rule. I was hoping. It doesn’t happen often, and it was a big moment in the game. So nice to get that.’’
Moore lifted the Bruins to a 2-0 lead in the second, ripping home a bad-angle shot for the shorty at 6:16. Only six shots on Luongo and two of them in the net (good time for Tim Thomas to pump his tires?). Moore, the former Harvard standout, was deep on the left wing, right at the goal line, when he launched his shot on the unsuspecting Luongo.
“The first period wasn’t our best, to put it mildly,’’ said Moore. “Tuukka was amazing [with 13 stops]. I thought we picked it up a little bit. I thought we did some better things, put more pucks to the net in the second period. The penalty killing and goaltending was obviously the strength tonight.’’
The goal light did not trigger on Moore’s shot. The officiating crew had to review the videotape, which clearly showed the puck sailed high into the net, just under the crossbar. Goal No. 3 for Moore, who signed as a free agent in July to do exactly what he’s done, stabilized a bottom-six line and chip, kill penalites, and chip on offense when possible.
“Sometimes you can surprise a goalie from that angle,’’ said Moore, referring to his shot. “Try to release it quick and you never know. I was fortunate it found its way.’’
The Bruins continually tempted fate through the first two periods. Continued penalties handed the Panthers a total of five power plays over the first 35 minutes. The Bruins kept killing, but constantly killing power plays is typically the highway to heartache.
“So,’’ said Julien, whose club faces the Bolts Thursday night in Tampa, “we have work to do.’’