The Bruins and Panthers were tied 1-1 heading into the third period Sunday but Boston (42-17-5) proceeded to score four goals in the final 20 minutes to leave the BB&T Center with a 5-2 victory - its season-high fifth in a row. Even better for Boston, by sweeping the five-game season series with lowly Florida (24-33-7), it was able to jump one point ahead of idle Pittsburgh for first place in the Eastern Conference (granted the Penguins have played one less game).
BC product and Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes - older brother of current Eagles star Kevin Hayes - gave Florida a 1-0 lead in the second period. In his Bruins debut, defenseman Andrej Meszaros paid immediate dividends by scoring a power-play goal that tied it at 1. Roberto Luongo (37 saves) did everything he could but eventually Boston wore down Florida by nearly doubling their shots on goal total (42-22).
Torey Krug had the go-ahead goal in the third after a home run pass by Patrice Bergeron and spinning backhand assist from Brad Marchand. The B’s hadn’t scored a power-play goal in four games (their longest drought of the season) but they nabbed their second goal on the man advantage as Bergeron beat his Team Canada teammate-Luongo. That kicked off a crazy flurry of three goals in 52 seconds. Hayes cut it to 3-2 by poking a loose puck in Chad Johnson’s (20 saves) skates but Jarome Iginla’s 20th goal of the season came 23 seconds later.
Chris Kelly added an empty-netter and Boston had swept its back-to-back in Florida against the Lightning and Panthers. For the season, the Bruins finished 9-0 against their new Atlantic Division foes. Things figure to get much more difficult though as Boston wraps up this three-game road trip in Montreal (35-24-7) on Wednesday (7:30, NBCSN). The Canadiens are 2-0 against the Bruins this season with two more meetings left this month.
What they'll be saying: Thankfully, there will be no more games against the Panthers in 2013-14. No Bruins fans will complain about the wins and points but it takes some of the fun out of it when you pretty much know how every contest between the teams will end before it has even started.
Daniel Paille left with an injury suffered in the first period on his only shift of the game. He was checked hard and somewhat awkwardly by Ed Jovanovski into the boards. Paille had a concussion in December so you can understand the Bruins being cautious but head coach Claude Julien said after the game that it wasn’t too serious which is clearly a good sign. If he can’t play on Wednesday, Jordan Caron will be in the lineup.
Boston had to like what it saw in Meszaros’ first game for the black and gold. He has a cannon of a shot and he put six pucks on Luongo. His goal was initially credited to Carl Soderberg but then it was changed to him. He skated 20:36 (2nd most ice time on the team) which included 3:50 on the power play and 50 seconds shorthanded. Dougie Hamilton was the healthy scratch for the defensemen.
Hayes only has 11 goals in his NHL career and being a local guy, I’m sure that these two were the most meaningful besides his first.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter:@RichSlate