The Boston Bruins scored four goals in the first period Thursday night. Though they couldn't have known it at the time, the one they got after that turned out to be the most important.
Milan Lucic scored his second of the game early in the second period, staking the Bruins to a 5-0 lead, and they needed every last bit of it as they held off the Tampa Bay Lightning for a 5-4 win at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Michael Ryder had a pair of goals and Miroslav Satan also tallied for Boston, which has won three in a row following a 10-game losing streak. The teams now have identical records of 26-22-11, but the Bruins took over the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff berth by virtue of a 2-1 lead in the season series with the Lightning, who saw their four-game winning streak snapped.
"Two points are so valuable right now," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We've lost some games that we should have won, and this one here I think we deserved to win. But we certainly did everything to shoot ourselves in the foot and make it exciting. We need to learn to control our games a lot better. If we can't do it for 60 minutes, we're going to get more of that."
Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie led the comeback for Tampa Bay with two goals apiece. Downie's second of the night with 3:13 remaining left the Lightning one shot away from tying the score, but they failed to get another puck past Tuukka Rask, who has been in net throughout the Bruins' run.
"We showed character, but playing half the game is not going to be good enough, especially against teams like Boston that are fighting, too, to get in," St. Louis said. "That first period was pretty embarrassing, but we fought back and I'm proud of that."
Antero Niittymaki, who was 7-0-1 with a 1.09 goals-against average in his last eight starts, was bombarded with 21 first-period shots and was beaten by four of them. Mike Smith replaced him to begin the second, allowing Lucic's second goal and finishing with 14 saves.
Satan's third goal since signing with the Bruins opened the scoring at 4:24, and Ryder had a hand in all three goals they scored in a six-minute span later in the first. He beat Niittymaki at 11:21 and again at 15:44, then took a shot that deflected off Lucic and Lightning defenseman Matt Smaby and into the net at 17:19 to effectively end Niittymaki's evening.
"It was very frustrating, obviously. … We didn't really give Niitty a chance," Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. "There was a lot of tic-tac-toes that they made. … Two or three goals we let them in the perimeter and they got some tap-ins."
Lucic greeted Smith with his fifth of the season 4:53 into the second and the Bruins carried that five-goal lead into the final minutes of the period before the Lightning began to make things interesting.
St. Louis scored with 3:50 remaining and again 58 seconds before intermission on a power play. Rookie defenseman Victor Hedman set up the first goal and also had the primary assist on both of Downie's goals in the third for the first three-point game of his NHL career. Steven Stamkos also contributed three assists.
"Obviously, we did enough to win the game. … You've got to try to stay positive, so you've got to focus on the positive more than the negative," Lucic said. "I think that's the feeling around here right now. We did what we needed to do to win."
Canucks 3, Panthers 0 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
The last thing Florida's anemic offense needed was a visit from a familiar face -- Roberto Luongo. The ex-Panther returned and stopped all 31 shots he saw for his fourth shutout of the season to beat the team that traded him in 2006.
Alexandre Burrows, Jannik Hansen and Ryan Kesler scored for Vancouver, which has split the first six games of a 14-game road trip that wraps around the Olympic break.
"Obviously, the best player on the ice tonight was Roberto," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "He played well, a couple of times he got help from his posts, but that's part of being in great position. We were able to score three against a goaltender that's been real good this year."
It was the second time Luongo has played in Florida since the Panthers traded him to the Canucks following the 2005-06 season.
"I think it's a win more than anything," Luongo said. "I wanted to make sure we got back to .500 on this road trip. It's a good team effort tonight."
Tomas Vokoun, who has been having a Luongo-like season in net for Florida, made 32 saves in his 20th consecutive start. But the Panthers have scored just 13 goals in their last 12 games, setting a franchise record in the process for most consecutive games with two or fewer goals.
"I didn't have any issue with our effort," Panthers coach Peter DeBoer said. "I thought our guys came out, stuck to the game plan and gave us what they had. We obviously didn't score and didn't win, so you don't take much consolation in that. But I thought we responded the right way after our last effort."
Vancouver got all the offense it needed when Burrows took a Henrik Sedin feed and beat Vokoun with a one-timer 1:18 into the second period. Hansen, in his second game back after a minor-league conditioning stint, scored on a shorthanded breakaway with 1:50 left in the period, putting a wrist shot over the goalie's left shoulder.
Kesler capped the scoring by scoring a power-play goal with 4:03 left in the third.
Stars 3, Flames 1 | HIGHLIGHTS | PHOTOS
Dallas got two goals by Mike Ribeiro and 33 saves from Marty Turco to beat the Flames in Calgary for only their second road win in two months.
Jamie Benn's goal 3:01 into the third period broke a 1-1 tie. The Flames thought they had tied the game in the final minute, but a video review ruled that a shot by Jarome Iginla that was originally ruled a goal didn't cross the goal line.
For NHL's complete story, click here.
Material from wire services was used in this report