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Bruins rally to beat Leafs in shootout

by Brian Compton
Memo to all NHL teams: The Boston Bruins have now figured out how to come back in the third period, too.

After failing to rally for a victory in the final 20 minutes all season, the Eastern Conference's points leader did just that on Wednesday night. Dennis Wideman and Zdeno Chara erased a 3-1 deficit in the third period before Michael Ryder scored the shootout winner in Boston's 4-3 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

Entering the game, the Bruins were 0-6-2 in 2008-09 when trailing after two periods and were coming off back-to-back losses to Washington and St. Louis. Instead of a third consecutive loss, they enter the All-Star break tied with the San Jose Sharks for the most points in the League (73).

"No, I didn't know (it was coming)," All-Star goalie Tim Thomas said of the comeback. "The only thing that was in the back of my mind was how well we've responded to almost every situation this year."

The teams exchanged goals just 1:16 apart in the first period. Jason Blake broke a scoreless tie at 13:58 when he poked the puck behind Thomas for his 14th goal of the season -- a goal that ended Toronto's scoring drought on home ice at 141 minutes and 49 seconds. But Blake Wheeler quickly tied the game for the Bruins with his 14th tally as the teams went into the first intermission tied.

The Leafs peppered Thomas with 15 shots in the second period and grabbed a 3-1 lead. Lee Stempniak put Toronto back on front with a power-play goal at 4:13, when he took a pass from Blake and roofed a shot over Thomas for his eighth of the season. Brad May put the Leafs up by a pair with his first goal of the season at 14:49.

But penalties doomed Toronto in the third, when it handed the Bruins four straight power plays. Wideman cut the lead to 3-2 at 2:17 when he took a pass from David Krejci and beat Vesa Toskala for his ninth goal of the season. Chara tied it with a power-play goal of his own with 5:53 left.

"They're just bad penalties," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. "They might be picky to some people, but they're penalties. It's needless to take a penalty on the other side of the red line. You can't defend those penalties."

Thomas showed why he's an All-Star in overtime, as the Bruins goalie was asked to make five saves. The Leafs were handed a golden opportunity to win the game in the extra session after Martin St. Pierre was whistled for tripping at 3:20, but Thomas -- who was beaten by Stempniak and Blake in the shootout -- shut the door to preserve the tie.

"The way they play us, I would guess that they would be having a lot more success than they've been having this year (if they always did that)," said Thomas, who finished with 31 saves. "They play us tough and hard and they're hungry. They're a very tough team to play against."

Wheeler answered Stempniak's goal in the first round of the shootout, but Blake gave Toronto the edge when he scored in Round 2. St. Pierre made up for his penalty in overtime by extending the shootout in the third round, and after Thomas came up big against Nikolai Kulemin, Ryder beat Toskala for the winner. With the loss, Toronto fell to 2-5 in shootouts.

"It wouldn't have been the end of the world (if we lost)," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "But for us, we thought it was important. We just lost the last couple of games, and we wanted to make sure that we felt good about ourselves heading into the break."

The Bruins return to action after the break against the Washington Capitals at the TD Banknorth Garden on Tuesday night. They enter the break feeling pretty good about themselves as they sit atop the NHL standings alongside San Jose.

"When you're in (training) camp you don't know exactly what you got," Thomas said. "I could have believed it after the first 10 games but any time before that, if I was a betting man, I would have bet against it."
Material from wire services was used in this report.

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