ATLANTA – The Boston Bruins usually get off to a good start. This time, they also finished strong.
Milan Lucic scored the go-ahead goal off a rebound with 3:47 remaining and Alex Auld won his third straight start, leading the Bruins to a 5-3 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Wednesday night.
Mark Recchi scored twice in his first game with Atlanta, and Ilya Kovalchuk added his NHL-leading 24th goal as the Thrashers overcame an early 2-0 deficit.
But Lucic scored his second career goal with pure hustle in a 3-3 game. After getting taken down at centre ice by Bobby Holik, leading to a delayed penalty against the Thrashers, Lucic got up and headed for the Atlanta net.
Johan Hedberg knocked down Phil Kessel’s shot with the blocker, but lost sight of the puck as it fell in the crease. Lucic, at the side of the net, knocked it inside the post before the Thrashers defence could react.
“I was calling for the puck,” Lucic said. “(Kessel) put it right into the office, and I put it home.”
Boston, one of the league’s best-starting teams with a plus-nine scoring edge in the first period coming in, added to that margin with Petteri Nokelainen’s goal at 16:01. Peter Schaefer made it 2-0 with a deflection six minutes into the second.
But the Thrashers fought back to lead during the wild period, and still felt good going to the third at 3-3. They had a plus-one scoring edge in the final period, despite entering the game with the worst goal differential (96-80) in the NHL.
“We were right where we needed to be,” Atlanta coach Don Waddell said. “We knew the first period was their best period, and the third period is usually ours. We put ourselves in position to win the game.”
But the Thrashers couldn’t overcome 18 turnovers, including one with 1:07 left in the second that led to Glen Murray’s tying goal on a pass from Lucic.
“You can’t turn the puck over 18 times and win the game,” Waddell said. “We can talk until we’re blue in the face, but the guys have to decide to bear down and do the little things.”
Boston’s Marc Savard added an open-net goal with 3.5 seconds left.
Auld, acquired from Phoenix last week after Tim Thomas was injured, stopped 23 shots to improve to 3-0 with the Bruins. Boston also was without second-leading scorer Marco Sturm, who was scratched after getting struck in the eye with a puck in Monday’s win at Buffalo.
“There is no doubt that we have to be happy under the circumstances,” coach Claude Julien said. “It’s a credit to the guys in there.”
Recchi, a 19-year veteran acquired off waivers from Pittsburgh over the weekend, brought the Thrashers back with goals 1:01 apart.
On an Atlanta power play, Marian Hossa sped into the Boston zone along the boards before sending a pass to Recchi breaking free down the middle. He ripped a shot just inside the post for his third goal of the season and 511th of his career.
No. 512 wasn’t long in coming. Eric Perrin fired a shot toward the Bruins net that appeared to be going wide, but Recchi, hustling in ahead of Murray, stuck out his stick with his one arm and redirected the puck over Auld’s glove.
“I feel very comfortable with the hockey club already,” Recchi said. “I hope to continue to help and help us get some wins.”
The Thrashers claimed the lead after a series of Boston penalties gave them a two-man advantage for nearly three minutes.
Mark Stuart received a major penalty and game misconduct for a knee-on-knee hit that sent Kovalchuk sprawling to the ice. In rapid succession, Andrew Alberts was sent off for high-sticking and Dennis Wideman picked up a slashing penalty.
After hobbling to the tunnel for a brief check, Kovalchuk returned to the ice to score the go-ahead goal with a 5-on-3 advantage. He gave the puck up from the left point, swooped over to the right side for a return pass from Hossa, and one-timed a blistering shot that was past Auld before he had a chance to react.
“That was the only shot I didn’t see,” Auld said.
Boston tied it 3-3 before the period was done. Lucic claimed the puck along the boards and passed in front to Murray, who appeared to catch Hedberg by surprise when he flipped a shot over the goalie’s glove.