By René Reyes/DFP Staff
Poor Jose Theodore.
The Florida Panthers’ 35-year-old starting goaltender had handed the Boston Bruins their last loss back on Dec. 8 when he stopped 40 shots in a stellar shutout performance, adding to his lore as a longtime B’s killer throughout his career in the National Hockey League. Entering Friday’s matchup, Theodore was 9-0-1 in his last 10 starts against the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
But surprisingly enough, the red-hot Bruins (23-9-1) chased Theodore from the game after he allowed four first-period goals in just 20 minutes. Then, they lit the lamp four more times against Theodore’s backup, Scott Clemmensen, in a lopsided 8-0 rout of the Panthers (18-11-7) that included Brad Marchand’s first career NHL hat trick and taunting chants of “Merry Christmas” from the Boston faithful.
Five other Bruins scored in the blowout win and netminder Tuukka Rask (30 saves) quietly recorded his second shutout of the year, as the B’s posted their sixth straight victory before a spirited, sellout crowd at the Garden and now sit alone atop the Eastern Conference standings with 47 points.
“We’re feeling good about ourselves,” said Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. “We’re confident, but we always said it before, we can’t be satisfied. It’s something that’s very important, and we talked about the fact that tonight was, with the holiday starting tomorrow, a huge game, and we had to bear down.
“We did that, and now we have a couple days to rest and make sure we’re ready for the second half of the season because it’s going to get tougher.”
Marchand put the Bruins on the board first with his 13th goal of the season while the B’s were in the midst of a penalty kill. Defenseman Gregory Campbell was whistled for high sticking at 5:42 of the first period, but instead of the Panthers benefitting from the man advantage, the Bruins capitalized while they were short handed.
Bergeron carried the puck into the offensive zone and intentionally shot it wide off the boards. The pesky Marchand didn’t give up on the play and collected the loose puck from behind the net. He then skated to the right dot, and with the flick of a wrist, Marchand beat Theodore stick side at the 5:56 mark.
The Bruins doubled their lead seven minutes later. In his first game back since serving a one-game suspension for his hit on Philadelphia Flyers’ Zac Rinaldo last Saturday, left winger Milan Lucic made his presence felt immediately. Bergeron’s straightaway slap shot from the blue line careened off the endboards and bounced right to Lucic, who tapped the puck home.
Following Lucic’s tally, the B’s Shawn Thornton traded punches with the Panthers’ Krystofer Barch at center ice and both were assessed five-minute majors.
The fireworks had only begun.
Center Zach Hamil, filling in for the injured Rich Peverly, nearly tripled the Bruins’ edge when it appeared he had slipped the puck past Theodore from the slot. A “no-goal” call was given by the refs and deservedly so. Replays upheld the call because Hamil’s shot rang off the right post, and Theodore had managed to clear the puck off the line with his stick.
The Bruins netted their second short-handed goal with 2:17 remaining in the first period on a highlight reel goal by left winger Benoit Pouliot. After Bergeron was sent to the penalty box for tripping, center Chris Kelly won the faceoff in the Bruins’ defensive zone. Pouliot picked up the pick, raced down the left wing, slipped the puck through his legs and backhanded it by a helpless Theodore before falling to the ice.
Several of Pouliot’s teammates chimed in on the goal, one worthy of being a Top-10 play on Saturday’s SportsCenter.
“That was an unbelievable play there,” Marchand said. “I think a lot of people had written him off there and said he had no chance, but he’s got a lot of skill that maybe he’s underestimated for, and he breaks it out and that was a beautiful goal.”
“He’s got very good hands,” said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg of Pouliot. “I wish I had half that skill. But he really fooled them, and it was a beautiful goal.”
Seidenberg capped off the scoring in the first frame with his first goal of the season, a laser that Theodore didn’t even see coming. For Seidenberg, it was such a relief to notch his first tally in 33 contests this year.
“There’s no doubt it’s been bothering him,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It was nice to see him get that goal, get the monkey off his back. Although he might say to you or to us that he’s OK with that, I’m sure it was bothering him. If you look at last game, he had the open net and he hit the post and he just kind of, at one point, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t care, I just look at the hits at the end of the game now, never mind the goals.’
“But tonight, I’m sure he looked at the stat sheet and his goal in the goal column.”
Florida coach Kevin Dineen replaced Theodore with former Boston College standout Clemmensen at the start of the second period, but the Bruins continued to stomp on the Panthers and didn’t let up on their offensive attack.
Campbell and Bergeron each contributed goals in the second period, and Marchand chipped in two more goals in the third to complete his hat trick and the Bruins’ 8-0 trashing of the Panthers.
“That’s an old fashioned butt kicking,” Dineen said. “There’s nothing to say. I got nothing tonight. I have nothing to say. I’m always the glass half-full type of guy. Tonight there’s nothing from our goaltenders to our defense. We were very porous, and we didn’t generate any offense.
“We got our tails handed to us. There’s no excuse. I got nothing.”
Marchand overtook his pal Tyler Seguin as the Bruins’ leading goal scorer with 15, and his career-high five-point performance against the Panthers gave him a plus-5 rating tonight. The dream of being a valuable asset for a Stanley Cup-contending team in the NHL has become a reality for the 23-year-old Marchand.
“I thought I could [play at the NHL level], but to make it in this league, everything has to go right,” Marchand said. “You have to get the right breaks, and when you get your opportunity, you have to play well and everything. So, it’s not easy to make it. There are a lot of great guys in the American Hockey League who never get the chance, and they are a lot better hockey players than me.
“But it’s just that things have gone well, and I’ve been fortunate.”
With no mention of a Stanley Cup hangover these days on Causeway Street after a disappointing October showing, the Bruins will get a three-day break before beginning a West Coast swing at Phoenix on Dec. 28. The B’s have rightfully earned the extra days of rest, Julien said.
“The one thing I said to them was we’ve gone from 15th to first in less than two months – they deserve a lot of credit for that and they worked hard to accomplish that and I think it’s important that they enjoy the three days of the Christmas holiday they have,” Julien said. “And those three days will be beneficial to us, hopefully not just in the long run, but in the short term.
“If we come back with the right approach and the right attitude, and head out on the road and play Phoenix, and take off where we left off, then those three days will look even better.”