On the first night back from the All-Star break, it was only fitting that it was a night of firsts for the Bruins.
Daniel Paille scored his first goal of the season to get Boston on the board, Nathan Horton scored his first goal in 11 games and Milan Lucic even had his first fight in 42 games as the Bruins held on for a 3-2 win over the Hurricanes in Carolina on Tuesday.
"We had contributions from two guys that obviously haven't scored in a while," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "For Dan it was nice to see and hopefully that helps his confidence. But even for Horts, it was a nice goal, a nice, perfect setup and hopefully that's the monkey off his back and hopefully he moves forward from here."
Paille has played just 24 games this season, as he was frequently a healthy scratch in the first half of the season. His last goal was actually against Carolina as well, the first of a record three shorthanded goals on the same minor penalty in the regular-season home finale back on April 10. He didn't score in the final regular-season game in Washington, nor in 13 playoff contests. And he didn't have a goal through the first four months of this season, but Paille looked like a natural scorer as he expertly tipped a Zdeno Chara point shot past Carolina goalie Cam Ward at 4:14 of the second period.
After the Hurricanes had tied it, Horton finally ended his long drought when he banged home a perfect pass out from behind the net by David Krejci with a shot at the left post. It was just the second goal in the last 21 games for Horton, but the Krejci-to-Horton connection is a familiar one, as Horton had gotten off to a blistering start to the season with 8-10-18 totals in his first 17 games while playing on the recently reunited Lucic-Krejci-Horton line.
While those firsts were a welcome sight for the Bruins, the real difference in this game came from some familiar sources. Patrice Bergeron provided the eventual game-winner when he scored just 72 seconds after Horton with a shot from the high slot off a feed by Mark Recchi.
It was Bergeron's 17th goal and 41st point of the season, as the reigning NHL First Star of the Month for January now has 12-14-26 totals in his last 22 games. The setup was also certainly nothing new for Recchi, who celebrated his 43rd birthday on Tuesday with his 945th career assist and 1,517th career point in the 1,622 game of his 22-year tenure in the league.
At the other end of the ice, Tim Thomas continued his historic season with another spectacular night. Playing on the same ice surface where he won his record third straight All-Star Game on Sunday, Thomas stopped 25 of the 27 shots he faced, including a series of testing bids in the closing minutes as the Hurricanes threw everything at him they could trying for the tying goal.
"Obviously he was huge for us again," Bergeron said of Thomas, who was named the game's No. 1 star. "Those saves at the end of the third period, I'm used to seeing them, but it's always amazing the way he does it."
The effort actually raised Thomas' goals-against average a tick up to 1.82. That's still enough to lead the league by a wide margin with Nashville's Pekka Rinne a distant second at 2.11. Thomas also remains atop the NHL with a .945 save percentage that would be an all-time record if he maintains it for the full season, and he now shares the league lead in wins with the victory pushing his record to 25-5-6.
Three of those wins have come at the expense of the Hurricanes, as the Bruins close out the season series with their second straight 3-2 win in Raleigh after opening a home-and-home series two weeks ago with a 7-0 rout at the Garden, Thomas' league-leading seventh shutout of the season.
"It was a good game," Julien said. "We knew it was going to be a tough game. This is a team battling for a playoff spot. It's the third time we've played them in the last couple weeks, and to come out with three wins is a feat in itself, but I think our guys battled hard. This is not an easy rink to play in, but we got some great goaltending and some good hard work from all the players."
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