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BRUINS BEAR DOWN ON THOMAS: Reilly Smith Scores with 58.7 Seconds Left, Boston Downs Panthers 3-2

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New Panthers goalie Tim Thomas said he approached Thursday's game like any other. His shaking body in the moments after a hard-fought 3-2 loss to his former teammates belied Thomas' words.

This one stung.

"It hurts the way ended up,'' Thomas said minutes after Reilly Smith -- one of the few Bruins on the ice Thomas hadn't shared a locker room with -- trickled a backhanded shot through for the game winner.

"I really wanted the guys who played in front of me to be rewarded.''

Thomas turned away a lot of pucks in his seven-plus seasons with the Bruins -- he's credited with over 12,000 saves wearing the spoked-B -- yet but it didn't take long for them to turn the tables on their Stanley Cup winning goalie.

Thomas may not have looked like his vintage self early, but he sure did as the game went on. Thomas, back after missing a week with a groin injury, made 37 saves as he kept the Panthers in the game. At times, Thomas was all Florida had.

"If it wasn't for Timmie, the game wouldn't have been this close'' said Kris Versteeg, who scored Florida's first goal in the second period to cut the Panthers' deficit in half. "He played for great for us.''

Boston took the first lead 3:45 into the game when Daniel Paille charged through the Florida defense and roofed a shot past Thomas.

The Bruins' second goal of the first came on the power play as Dougie Hamilton flung a shot from 55 feet away. Thomas, blocked down low by old pal Zdeno Chara, never saw this puck coming and it was 2-0 with 7:13 left in the first.

"That first may have been our worst period of the year which was really surprising to us,'' coach Kevin Dineen said of a rough opening period for the Panthers, one in which they were outshot 15-8 and didn't challenge Tuukka Rask with a shot in the final nine minutes of the frame.

"We played well the rest of the game. We pushed hard in the third, carried some momentum. .-.-. We ended up fighting back the rest of the night. When we play hard and a workmanlike game, we can play with anyone in the league. Tonight's another hard lesson that it needs to be a full 60 minute game.''

Florida hung on thanks to Thomas and crawled back into it when Versteeg fired a shot from the right circle with Tomas Kopecky slamming into Rask at just the right time.

The Panthers didn't get much else going, but tied it with six minutes remaining as Jesse Winchester -- out of the NHL last year -- fired a shot at Rask then stayed after it. Winchester saw the puck crawl away from Rask and he pounced, chopping it into the net.

Florida played tough defense for much of the second and third to tie the score.

"It's unfortunate the way it ended,'' Versteeg said. "It's a [crummy] feeling to lose, especially when you come back like that. Hopefully we can change that Saturday.''

Thursday's game looked like it was heading to overtime -- somewhere the Panthers have yet to be this season -- before Smith backhanded a soft shot that Thomas called a "tough one."

As the Bruins celebrated, the Panthers hung their heads. Thursday's loss was Florida's sixth out of eight this season and third straight since upsetting the Penguins in last Friday's home opener.

"It certainly was different playing against guys who you played with for so long,'' Thomas said. "I tried treating it as another game. But having said that, it was a big game for me coming back after awhile and playing guys .-.-. There's was a big to-do about it. I was a little nervous today, but not too bad.''

--The announced attendance for the defending Eastern Conference champions was a disappointing 14,440.

 

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