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Bruins snap slide, take Northeast Division lead

by Matt Kalman /

BOSTON -- By getting the start in net on back-to-back days for the first time all season Sunday, Tuukka Rask was given an opportunity to make amends for what he felt was a loss he was responsible for Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Rask bounced back with a 28-save shutout that made sure the output from Boston Bruins' struggling offense was just enough to snap a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) in a 3-0 victory against the Florida Panthers at TD Garden.

The victory enabled the Bruins to pass the idle Montreal Canadiens for the top spot in the Northeast Division and second place in the Eastern Conference. The teams are tied with 59 points, but the Bruins have played one fewer game.

"Good to get back in the win column there," Rask said. "It was a pretty good game from us. So it's a good thing to build on that."

Jaromir Jagr's goal 3:03 into the game was the only offense the Bruins needed in front of Rask, who picked up his fourth shutout of the season. Dougie Hamilton and Brad Marchand scored the Bruins' other goals.

The goal was the 118th game-winning goal of Jagr's career, tying him with Bruins legend and Hockey Hall of Famer Phil Esposito for most in League history.

Although he wanted to get Rask and backup Anton Khudobin playing time in the final week of the regular season, Bruins coach Claude Julien thought it was important to go back to Rask against the Panthers.

"I just thought after [Saturday], especially when he stood tall and said, 'Listen, I should've had a couple goals,' I thought it was important for me to put him back in, say, 'Here's an opportunity to go out and battle back.' The quicker the better," Julien said. "And he responded well.

"I texted him right after the game [Saturday] and said, 'You know, you're back in there [Sunday].' So I was glad to see that he played extremely well and it shows a lot about his character."

The Panthers will return to Florida after going 0-4-0 on their road trip, during which they were outscored 20-5. They've lost six in a row overall.

"There was enough try to give us an opportunity to be very competitive in this game," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "At the end of it, you have to find a way, with what we have, to try to create some kind of offense. Again, for the most part, there was some real effort tonight, which is encouraging and what we have to have for us to go home and keep pushing with some dignity and pride here. We're going to certainly need that kind of effort at home, but I don't think we're going to see a lot of incredibly fancy goals out of us. It's going to be just through hard work and guts.

For the fourth straight game the Bruins scored first, as Jagr found the back of the net early in the first period. Chris Kelly had hacked at the puck and Jagr stole it from Shawn Matthias before skating to the high slot and beating Jacob Markstrom with a wrist shot high to the glove side for a 1-0 lead.

That goal was Jagr's second with the Bruins and 681st of his career, moving him nine goals away from tying Mario Lemieux for ninth place on the League's all-time list.

The Panthers outshot the Bruins 10-7 in the first period. Of his seven saves, Rask's biggest was a left-pad stop on Drew Shore when the Florida forward tried to stuff in a rebound from the top of the blue paint with a little less than six minutes to play in the period.

Both teams ramped up their offense in the second period, with the Bruins doing more to test Markstrom than the Panthers did Rask, as Boston outshot the Panthers 21-10. Markstrom was able to keep the Panthers within one until a Florida turnover put the puck on Hamilton's stick at the right point. The rookie defenseman slammed a shot just inside the left post for his first goal in nine games.

"I think [Rask] played really good," Markstrom said. "He had a strong game, Tuukka. He made some big saves early on; we could have had a 1-1 [game]. He made some big saves. It's tough, there are a lot of good goalies in this League. You don't get a lot of chances, so you have to bear down. It's tough."

Marchand closed the scoring with an empty-net goal, his team-best 18th of the season, with 1:22 left in regulation.

After the game, the Bruins presented their game sweaters to first-responders from the Boston Marathon bombings Monday. Typically the "Shirts Off Their Backs" promotion is for season-ticket holders, but those fans elected to have the sweaters given to the heroes of the tragedy. The players stayed on the ice with the first-responders and took in a rousing ovation from the fans in the stands.

"It was just obviously a great feeling to be able to do it [thank the first-responders] on a personal level and right on the ice in front of the fans," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "It wasn't as much for us as it was for them. To be able to recognize them and thank them in front of the fans and people who were watching on TV."

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