October 17, 2013

Smith scores late, helps Bruins top Thomas, Panthers

By Jesse Connolly

Reilly Smith beat Tim Thomas with under a minute left in regulation, notching the game-winner and his first goal in black and gold. (Getty Images)

Final: Boston 3, Florida 2

Recap: Tim Thomas' first start against his former didn't begin the way he'd have liked. Dan Paille got past a defender and lifted a shot over Thomas' shoulder to make it 1-0 Boston with 3:47 gone. With the Bruins on a power play midway through the frame, Dougie Hamilton -- back in the lineup replacing Adam McQuaid -- fired home his first of the year to make it 2-0. 

The Bruins began to take their foot off the gas in the second period, leading to a Kris Versteeg goal that cut Boston's lead in half. Thomas got sharper as the game wore on and helped the Panthers kill off a four-minute Boston power play in the third.

That set up a game-tying goal from Jesse Winchester with precisely six minutes to go in regulation. But the Bruins managed to wake back up at the tail end of the third, getting a goal from Reilly Smith with 59 seconds remaining. Thomas vacated his crease with 21 ticks left, but Tuukka Rask and the B's were able to fend off the Cats and eke out the victory.

Records: Boston 4-2-0, eight points; Florida 2-6-0, four points

Key Play of the Game: Smith's goal came on a scramble in front of the Panthers' crease. The young winger initially sent the puck out to Patrice Bergeron from behind the net, but No. 37 never got a shot off. Instead, Smith popped back out, grabbed the loose puck and backhanded one through Thomas' wickets.

Connolly's Commendations: Might as well start with the star of this entry so far: Smith. No. 18 was extra tenacious tonight and is fitting in quite nicely in Brad Marchand's old spot alongside Bergeron. Smith passed up a few opportunities during the game where he surely should've fired the puck on net, but those unselfish decisions can't diminish the strong game he played.

For a guy that's played in four games in the last year and a half, missed nine days with a groin injury, is 39 and probably had to fight back some emotions, Thomas looked pretty damn good to me. He had some issues with rebounds, but he also had a gem of a stop when Jarome Iginla came in alone and tried to put a backhander past him. I expect Thomas to be even more on his game when the Panthers pay a visit to Boston Nov. 7.

Boston's fourth line was utterly dominant at times, especially in the first period. The Merlot clan had the Panthers pinned in their own end for extended stretches and collectively notched their first point of the season with Paille's tally.

Connolly's Critiques: Looks like Marchand's still in the dog house. No. 63 was mighty quiet in this one (zero shots) and saw precisely 0:00 of power-play time.

Notes: Smith's goal was his first as a Bruin. ... Thomas finished the night with 37 saves on 40 shots. ... Rask improves to 8-1-0 lifetime against the Panthers.

Final Thoughts: After making the Panthers look like the inferior team that they are early on, the B's began to play down to the competition. It's not a stretch to say they were lucky to pull this one out against a Panthers team that pounced when Boston downshifted to a lower gear.

Next: The Black and Gold continue their three-game road trip in Tampa on Saturday night.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com