-- It took more work than anticipated, but the Boston Bruins
put paid Saturday night to a fantastic trip to Northern Ireland.
Capping a three-day visit to this city with a game against an all-star team from the England's top league, playing under the Belfast Giants Select name, Boston found itself in a harder than anticipated dog fight.
"I thought for a little while, we were in trouble," Boston captain Zdeno Chara
told NHL.com after his team erased a second-period deficit to pull away with a 5-1 victory at a sold out and very loud Odyssey Arena.
But, in the end, Boston just had too much class for a team littered with players with little or none NHL experience.
"It was a credit to us that we forced them to turn up their game," Select goalie Stephen Murphy said.
Murphy was brilliant for the first 38 minutes of the game, stopping everything Boston through his way as the Giants tried to nurse a pretty goal from Jade Galbraith into the second intermission.
"We just couldn't capitalize on our chances," Chara told NHL.com. "We were not afraid at all. We believed we would win. It was just a little hard right from the beginning because the goalie was playing so well for them.
"But, it is hard for the goalie to keep it up shot after shot for 60 minutes with the pressure we put on them."
In fact, it proved to be impossible.
Murphy, who finished with 40 saves, finally cracked in the dying minutes of the second period, allowing a power-play goal by Tyler Seguin
, followed by a pair of goals from Boston's third line in a 24-second span.
"We got a power-play goal and our line went out and just worked hard and got us a couple to get us the lead," said Shawn Thornton
, who had assists on goals by Chara and Brad Marchand
. "It was nice that we had the momentum going into the third period."
"These are tough games for us," said Claude Julien, the Boston coach. "We had nothing to win in the game, but a lot to lose and Belfast had nothing to lose and everything to win.
In the third, Boston turned a 3-1 lead into a 5-1 final as Milan Lucic
scored and Seguin, looking to make the Bruins in his first pro camp, added a penalty-shot tally to his preseason resume.
, the Boston goalie, finished with 24 saves.
In the end, the final score and the stats proved to be irrelevant, though.
Boston got what it wanted out of the game and Belfast got what it wanted and more from Saturday night.
"This doesn't happen every night in Belfast," Giants GM Todd Kelman said as he addressed the sold-out crowd after the game. "This was a special night and I want to thank the Boston Bruins
for helping to make it happen and coming to Belfast."
It was Boston, though, that was in a thankful mood as they packed their bags in preparation for Sunday's departure for Prague and the season-opening Compuware NHL 2010 Premiere games against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Thornton, whose mom was born in Belfast before leaving as a 5-year-old, made sure he took in all that he could this week -- and especially Saturday night.
Thornton had 24 family members and friends in the stands Saturday night.
"I got here pretty early and tried to drink it in like you said," Thornton said. "I enjoyed it, but on other side I was trying to be competitive and play with some effort."
After it was all over, Chara took the microphone at center ice and thanked the Giants and the city of Belfast for a trip his team won't forget anytime soon. It was a heartfelt moment received proudly by the British hockey fans that packed the Odyssey to capacity.
"It was great," Thornton said. "I think the boys enjoyed it and we had a great time. What Zdeno said was what we all felt."
Even the Giants, in defeat, shared in he flood of positive emotions.
"It was a dream come true," Galbraith told NHL.com. "It's amazing the NHL would do this for us, bring in a team like Boston that had the roster they would likely open the season with and play us. It was total class by them and an unforgettable experience for us."