SUNRISE, FL - Boston had a quick start, and a swift finish, as Reilly Smith scored his first as a Bruin with just 58.7 seconds left in the third period to lift the Black & Gold to a 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on Thursday night.
After a Patrice Bergeron faceoff win, Johnny Boychuk kept the puck in the zone, sending it along the blueline to Torey Krug at the right point who fired it in deep. Smith first tried to set up Bergeron in front, before making his way around Tim Thomas' net and backhanding in a loose puck that trickled in.
"Yeah it got close at the end there; we didn’t want that [comeback] happen. It’s a great feeling being able to score and help the team out and get the win," Smith said postgame, of his first in the spoked-B.
The Bruins had taken an early 2-0 lead in the first period, thanks to Daniel Paille and Dougie Hamilton's first goals of the season.
"And then we started maybe letting up a bit and probably got away from our game as well and started getting a little cute and gave them an opportunity to get back into the game," said Head Coach Claude Julien.
The Panthers cut the deficit in half, on a delayed penalty call to David Krejci for slashing at 12:32 into the second period, with Kris Versteeg finding a way past Tuukka Rask.
Though notching a power play goal with Hamilton's shot in the first, the Bruins didn't convert on a four minute man-advantage in the third period after Krejci was high-sticked. Florida's Jesse Winchester batted in the equalizer with just six minutes to go.
"We win some games in this building but I don’t recall us really playing extremely well here so it’s been a tough building for us as far as being satisfied with your game," said Julien.
Though the full effort wasn't there for Julien, Smith's game-winner was an indication of the night Patrice Bergeron's line put forth. For the past two games now (and a period in Columbus), the trio of Bergeron centering Smith and Loui Eriksson has been consistently strong at both ends.
They combined for 10 shots, and Bergeron and Eriksson both made their own bids, before Smith's fourth found the back of the net.
With 1:17 to go, Smith had nearly converted on a tip-in from in front off a Boychuk slap shot. It set up the faceoff in the offensive zone.
Less than 20 seconds later, the scramble saw Smith find a way to put it past Thomas, playing against his former team for the first time.
"We probably could have had 15, 20 shots that game. We played very well. Bergy and Loui did a great job of getting the puck up the boards to create scoring opportunities," said Smith, who kicked off his night by nearly tipping in a shot at Thomas' right post.
"It’s good to get that in the end just because I feel like we carried the play most of the game," said Smith. "And for them to come back is kind of a doubt-hearted feeling."
From the view at the other end, Rask may not have been as pleased at his performance Thursday night, and the overall effort, but he sees positives of "newcomers" Eriksson and Smith beginning to adjust to the B's.
"Really good. Loui’s a really skilled guy, he likes to make that pass and he still can hold onto the puck. And Reilly, he really wants to move forward and create chances and he’s got a good shot and today it paid off for him," said Rask.
"So I think they’re a great fit for us but still, I think as a team, we still have some ways to go."
Bergeron's line has now accounted for the past two game-winners, with Eriksson notching the winning goal 49 seconds into the third period in a 3-1 win in Columbus. Smith has two assists and a goal since the trio has been together.
"I thought he played well tonight, and not only did he score the winner but he had some good chances early on," Julien told reporters postgame, of Smith.
"I told him, ‘you have to be a little bit more selfish.’ He forced a pass versus he had a good chance to shoot there. So it’s a young player really trying to do the right thing here and sometimes you have to encourage him to be selfish and take those shots; he’s got a great shot."
With Smith on Bergeron's line, while Brad Marchand works to get his game up to its usual speed, Julien has seen a young player with top-six trajectory. He started the season with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron, forming one of the Bruins' best lines to kick off 2013-14.
Julien swapped Marchand and Smith, to allow No. 63 to take the pressure off of himself, and try to work through his game.
"He seems to be getting better all the time with confidence," Julien said of Smith, prior to the game.
"You see his skill level is pretty good; his hockey sense and his vision is also pretty good and I think we’re going to discover that this guy’s only going to get better as he progresses and gets more experience."
"I think he’s got the ability to possibly be a guy that can move up there, whether it’s permanently or at times."
"He’s been reliable on the walls, making some good decisions even offensively, you see a pretty skilled player there," Julien said following the 3-2 win. "So I like his game."
Smith's offensive flair has shown itself throughout the start of the season, like when he broke through, making a curl and drag move in on Thomas.
Pressure broke up that play, but he finally found the back of the net -- when it counted.