BOSTON – Their minutes are limited compared to the rest of the Boston Bruins' forwards. Still, Boston's fourth line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton makes the most of the ice time it gets, and that trio helped the Bruins protect a third-period lead Thursday.
The Bruins, who lost a 2-0 third-period lead Tuesday in Pittsburgh, got a key insurance goal from Thornton at 12:43 of the third period on the way to beating the Florida Panthers 4-1 at TD Garden.
After going 32-0-0 in 2011-12 when leading after two, the Bruins have lost four times this season when leading after 40 minutes. They were clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period before Thornton scored when his centering pass was deflected to the slot while Florida goaltender Scott Clemmensen was out of the net. Thornton skated around the net and then stuffed the puck into the open cage.
It was the third goal of the season for Thornton, who scored just five all last season. Paille, who has chipped in with five goals this season, and Campbell assisted on the goal.
"I think our line for the last little bit ... has been working pretty hard and got rewarded tonight," Thornton said. "Some nights we don't, but today we did."
Tuukka Rask made 29 saves for the win. Clemmensen finished with 29 saves for Florida, which has lost five in a row. Patrice Bergeron tacked on an empty-net goal for his second score of the night to seal the victory.
After landing just seven shots on goal in a lifeless second period, the Bruins needed the energy its fourth line typically provides. When Thornton cashed in, it lifted any pressure the Bruins were feeling from their third-period struggles.
"I think that that line has been pretty good lately," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "They're giving us some good games. They're scoring some timely goals. They're a line that deserves a lot of credit lately. And when your team goes through those sorts of stages, sometimes it's important that lines like that pick up the slack. That's what they're doing right now."
The Panthers dominated the early minutes but were thwarted time and again by Rask's saves. It took the Bruins 3:32 to land their first shot on goal, as David Krejci sent a lazy wrist shot on Clemmensen on the rush.
Boston then made the most of its second shot on net. After Krejci's slap shot rattled the end glass behind Clemmensen, Zdeno Chara pinched down the left wall and fired a one-timer into the back of the net at 3:55 for a 1-0 lead.
Considering the Panthers are now 1-13-4 this season when allowing the first goal, Panthers coach Kevin Dineen was disheartened to see his team's early hard work go to waste.
"We've got to find a way to get some puck luck and get that first goal," said Dineen, whose team sits last in the Eastern Conference. "I though [Clemmensen] had a solid game in there tonight. He got a screen on that first one, a D steps in front of him and the guy buries it top shelf. Just keep searching for the answers and obviously there's a lot of try right now. I think these guys are pushing as hard as they can and that's the answer to our problems right now."
Rask kept the Bruins ahead at 7:47 with a glove save in a 1-on-1 showdown with Florida rookie Jonathan Huberdeau after a Tyler Seguin giveaway. Seguin then made up for his gaffe by assisting on Boston's second goal. He easily gained the Florida zone and dished off to Brad Marchand, who found Bergeron in front of the net for a 2-0 lead with 5:04 remaining in the period.
Florida turned the momentum of the game in its favor in the second period. The Panthers got on the board at 3:10 while killing a penalty. Shawn Matthias won a race to the puck with Dougie Hamilton after Milan Lucic's backpass went awry. Matthias' goal was the first shorthanded score against the Bruins this season, and the second on the season by the Panthers.
Florida had consecutive power plays late in the period, but Boston's top-ranked penalty kill weathered the storm and the Bruins took a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. From there, Boston gutted out a win without playing its best hockey.
"We didn't play that well tonight," Julien said. "We got a little bit better in the third. But some nights we seem to be in sync, and lately we've been a little off our game. So certainly not the way we want to play or certainly not our best game, let's put it that way."