BOSTON -- Center Ryan Spooner scored two goals, and goaltender Tuukka Rask made 26 saves when the Boston Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers 3-1 at TD Garden on Saturday.
The Bruins (16-9-3) have won two straight and nine in a row at home against Florida dating to Dec. 8, 2011. Boston has a three-point lead on Florida (14-12-4) in the Atlantic Division.
“We talked about it before the game that we had some games at hand with the other teams, and they [were] only a point behind,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “So, you know, we had to get ourselves, I guess, some more breathing room and find ways to push teams back, and it’s really important if you want to move forward and keep climbing.”
Rask is 14-2-1 with a 1.28 goals-against average and .955 save percentage against the Panthers. He has won six of his past eight starts and earned a point in all those games.
“Tuukka has been like I think we’re used to seeing him,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “He’s been solid, and no doubt he’d love to have that goal back. To me, he played well enough to deserve a shutout this afternoon. But he’s been solid. He’s been good. I mean, he had a rough start to this season, but he’s regained his game, and feeling confident, and certainly given us a chance to win every time he’s in net.”
Spooner, who has three two-goal games in the NHL, gave the Bruins the lead in the first period. After defenseman Torey Krug intercepted a pass at the blue line, he took a wrist shot Spooner tipped past Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo at 11:35. The goal was reviewed and upheld when it was ruled Spooner did not hit the puck with a high stick.
It was Spooner’s first even-strength goal since Oct. 23, a span of 20 games.
“I’m not really sure what’s considered to be good, but I definitely know that wasn’t, I guess, good enough,” Spooner said. “So I definitely need to score a lot more and shoot the puck more I guess when I play 5-on-5.”
Spooner's second goal came on a power play eight minutes into the second period, when he beat Luongo through the five-hole to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
“So both his goals are things that we’ve talked about for him, going to the net on that first one to tip it in and being a bit more of a shooter sometimes on the half wall to keep the penalty kill guessing, instead of being predictable,” Julien said. “And then he was rewarded for both of those.
In the second period, it took the Panthers until 8:46 to record a shot. Boston outshot Florida 20-13 through the first two periods.
Panthers coach Gerard Gallant shuffled his lines in the third period, and his players responded. Florida, which outshot Boston 14-5 in the third period, scored when a slap shot by former Bruins forward Reilly Smith beat Rask through the five-hole at 13:56 to cut the lead to 2-1.
Florida kept the pressure on, but Brad Marchand's empty-net goal provided the Bruins insurance with 1:23 remaining. The Panthers, who began a four-game road trip, have lost three of their past four.
“It was a pretty flat game,” Gallant said. “It was a defensive-minded game and there wasn’t a whole lot of scoring chances. Fortunately for them they got that first goal and it held up for quite a while, and we just didn’t generate enough.”
Panthers center Derek MacKenzie left the game early in the second period with a lower-body injury and did not return. Prior to the game, Gallant said forward Nick Bjugstad, who missed his seventh game because of an upper-body injury, is not expected to return before the end of the road trip. Bjugstad was placed on injured reserve Friday.
The Panthers play Tuesday at the New York Islanders.
The Bruins play the second of their three-game homestand against the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.