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Panthers' Thomas makes his return to Boston

by Brian Hunter

PANTHERS (21-24-7) at BRUINS (33-15-3)


Last 10: Florida 5-4-1; Boston 6-3-1

Season series: This is the third of five games between the Florida Panthers and the Boston Bruins. Reilly Smith scored with 58.7 seconds left in regulation to give the Bruins a 3-2 win in Florida on Oct. 17; Brad Marchand sparked a three-goal third period with the decisive goal to help Boston win again on home ice, 4-1 on Nov. 7.

Big story: Tim Thomas will face his former team for the first time at TD Garden. He played against them earlier this season at BB&T Center, but was injured when the Panthers visited the Bruins a few weeks later. Thomas led Boston to a Stanley Cup title in 2011, a season in which he also won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goaltender and the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"There was a flood of emotions, all good," Thomas said in the Miami Herald about his first trip back. "Being back in the city, seeing how people -- from hotel workers to cab drivers -- treated me, it was better that I wasn't playing. I got to appreciate it a bit more."

Team Scope:

Panthers: Even though Florida would have to climb over seven teams in order to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, its points deficit at the moment is in single digits and a come-from-behind 5-4 shootout win at the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday indicates no one on this team has packed it in.

Drew Shore and Brad Boyes scored late to force overtime, and Nick Bjugstad had the lone goal in the shootout. Thomas was flawless in the penalty-shot tiebreaker and evened his record at 14-14-3 for the season.

"Obviously everyone is pitching in any way they can," Thomas said in the Miami Herald. "Our problem hasn't been effort."

Bruins: The key storyline as far as Boston is concerned would be the likely return of forward Chris Kelly, who broke his ankle Dec. 7 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Coach Claude Julien wasn't ready to put Kelly in the lineup Monday at the New York Islanders, but called it "a good possibility" he's in there Tuesday.

It's not as though the Bruins have been lacking punch in Kelly's absence -- they've scored six goals in each of their past two games. After routing the Philadelphia Flyers 6-1 on Saturday, they had their hands full with the Islanders. The first three goals Boston scored would be answered by New York, but the Bruins persevered for a 6-3 victory and took a two-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic Division.

"We've got to keep that going," said forward Patrice Bergeron, who scored along with linemates Marchand and Smith. "We're feeling good right now. We have some good confidence and we're moving the puck well. When we do that, we're creating some chances for ourselves."

Who's hot: Panthers forward Jesse Winchester has three goals and three assists in his past five games. … Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has three goals in his past two games. He closed the scoring Monday with his 500th NHL point. Marchand (seven goals, five assists), Bergeron (four goals, six assists) and Smith (two goals, five assists) all have six-game point streaks.

Injury report: Florida forward Aleksander Barkov (knee) has missed the past two games. … Boston defenseman Adam McQuaid (lower body) is out indefinitely.

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