BOSTON – Blake Wheeler gave Boston fans a new number pay attention to.
Hours after changing his uniform number, Wheeler had his first three-goal game in the NHL to help the Bruins beat Toronto 5-2 on Thursday night.
Dennis Wideman and Zdeno Chara, playing his 700th NHL game, added goals for the Bruins in their fifth win in six games. Mikhail Grabovski and Alex Steen scored for Toronto. The Maple Leafs are on a three-game winless streak.
Wheeler, a rookie from the University of Minnesota, changed from No. 42 to 26.
“It’s something I just wanted to do,” Wheeler said while sitting in his locker with the No. 42 still on a name plate over his head. “I always said I wanted to change it. A couple of days ago they said, ‘If you want to change it, go ahead.”‘
Wheeler, originally drafted by Phoenix – fifth overall – in 2004, played three years with the Golden Gophers before signing as a free agent with the Bruins on July 1.
He scored Boston’s second, third and fifth goals.
“I told them I was going to change my number before every game,” he said, smiling. “They said, ‘That’s not a good idea.’ I guess I’ll stick with the No. 26, its working for me.”
The Bruins opened the scoring on Wideman’s power-play goal 5:56 into the game. He beat goalie Leafs Vesa Toskala with a slap shot from the point that slipped inside the right post.
Boston made it 2-0 on Wheeler’s power-play goal 1:50 later. Wideman fired a wrist shot from the point that Wheeler tipped down, then turned and beat Toskala.
“We got ourselves in penalty trouble, they took advantage,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. “A couple of fluky kind of long-shot goals that changed direction on the goalie.”
The Bruins increased their lead to 3-0 on Wheeler’s second of the game 5:18 into the second period. He took a pass from Marco Sturm and faked out Toskala before tucking a shot into the net.
“The young guys do add energy,” said Boston goalie Tim Thomas, who had 34 saves.
One of Toronto’s biggest problems this season has been falling behind early.
“We got to come out of the gate harder and make sure we don’t make any mistakes that give them too many opportunities early in the game,” Steen said. “It is getting old. We’ve done it too many times and it’s tough to battle back every game. We’ve done a good job of it but it was be nice to start the game with a lead for once.”
Steen cut it to 3-1 midway into the third when he scored out of a scramble.
The Bruins killed off a 5-on-3 power play late in the third before Chara put it away with a goal with 2:45 to play.
Wheeler completed his hat trick with 53 seconds left on a shot from the blue line into an empty net after the Maple Leafs pulled Toskala. The fans then littered the ice with hats, causing a brief delay.
“Every time he’s on the ice, he seems to make things happen,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “Tonight was a good night for him. He’s a smart player. Since training camp he’s been getting more and more confidence.”
Notes: Toronto C Nik Antropov left the game in the first period after injuring his foot blocking a shot. “I don’t think its major,” Wilson said. … Boston scored a power-play goal for the ninth time in 13 games. … Toronto has allowed two or more power-play goals in five games. … Boston D Mark Stuart sent Maple Leafs LW Jason Blake into Boston’s bench with a check in the opening period. … Toronto C John Mitchell injured his shoulder and spoke about it possibly being separated after the game.