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Bruins' Rask continues dominance over Panthers

by Matt Kalman

BOSTON -- Tuukka Rask continued his dominance of the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.

The Boston Bruins goaltender received a rare cushion from his teammates to back up his 23-save performance in a 4-1 win at TD Garden that improved his all-time record against the Panthers to 9-1-0.

Rask started the night with a career 0.98 goals-against average and .968 save percentage against Florida.

The Bruins (9-5-1) had gone six games without scoring more than three goals. They improved to 6-1-0 against Atlantic Division foes, and they have two more games against division opponents coming up as they continue their five-game homestand.

"It makes it easier," Rask said of the offensive support. "But then again, it's 3-0 and then they get a goal, it's still a two-goal game and anything can happen. So, I just try not to get too comfortable out there and keep my head cool, and try to keep the puck out of the net and play those last minutes."

Florida has not won in seven games (0-3-4). The Panthers were 0-for-4 on the power play.

Florida coach Kevin Dineen wasn't totally disappointed with his team's performance.

"There's not much to say. I think the score is probably not overly indicative of the hockey game," he said. "At the end of the day, there's only one thing that matters and that's the two points at the end of the night. We're going to continue to search for a way to find a complete game that'll make a difference.

The Bruins broke a streak of allowing the first goal in four straight games when they got on the scoreboard first in the second period. Zdeno Chara teed up the puck for a David Krejci one-timer from the blue line that deflected off the left post and into the net at 7:17.

Boston hung onto that lead until the period ended. Rask made a couple of impressive saves to preserve the lead, including one post-to-post move that denied Jonathan Huberdeau on a wraparound with less than two minutes remaining before intermission.

Brad Marchand's first goal in 13 games doubled the Bruins' lead at 4:09 of the third period. It was one of the easiest goals Marchand will score, as Dennis Seidenberg's shot from the left point was tipped by Loui Eriksson and squeezed through Scott Clemmensen, allowing Marchand to tap it in from behind the Florida goaltender.

"It's really nice to finally get one," Marchand said. "It's been a while and I forget what it felt like, but it's only a lucky goal like that and it's nice to get the monkey off the back."

The goalless drought was obviously on Marchand's mind. After he scored, he reached his right hand to the top of his back and made a throwing motion as though he was removing the proverbial monkey.

The Marchand goal was also a breaking point for the Panthers, according to Clemmensen.

"That was obviously a turning point of the game, that second goal for them," the goaltender said after a 26-save performance. "And it gave them some momentum and it puts us back on our heels with just 13 minutes or 14 minutes -- whatever it was -- left to play. So, obviously, that was just the turning point."

Torey Krug put the Bruins ahead 3-0 at 8:57. Chris Kelly stopped on a dime at the top of the left circle and found Krug as the late man for a wrist shot from the high slot that beat Clemmensen high to the glove side.

Florida (3-9-4) ended Rask's shutout bid with 5:35 left in regulation after Nick Bjugstad ripped a shot on the rush off the Boston goaltender's right ear. Jesse Winchester swooped in and batted in the rebound to cut the Bruins' lead to 3-1.

Rask said he had some ringing in his ear for a few minutes. Overall, though, the Bruins helped him out defensively as much as they did offensively.

"I mean, compared to the other past couple games we've played, I thought the quality of chances we gave up today was not even as close to being as bad as it's been in the past couple games," Rask said. "So I think it's good. We're trying hard, and today I think our D boxed out their forwards and blocked a lot of shots too. So it helps a lot."

Reilly Smith put the Bruins back ahead by three by scoring with less than two minutes to play.

The Panthers, who haven't won in four games in Boston dating back to Dec. 8, 2011, have two games remaining on their road trip. They'll visit the Ottawa Senators on Saturday and the New York Rangers on Sunday.

The Bruins' homestand continues with divisional games against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday. The Maple Leafs' visit should be particularly emotional because of how the Bruins ended Toronto's season with a comeback from three goals down in the third period of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

"Yeah, well, we really haven't looked at the Toronto game at all. We can't do that with the way we're playing right now," Marchand said. "We want to focus one shift at a time and really put a good effort in [Thursday night's] game. I think we did that. It wasn't pretty the first period of the game, but we came along and we played pretty well towards the end. So, now we can focus on Toronto, and it's really nice to get a good win under our belt going to that game because it will be a very tough game. They're a really good team and playing well right now."

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