The Boston Bruins are feeling a lot better as they begin a five-game road trip. They probably also feel good about who their first opponent will be.
The Bruins have used strong third periods to defeat the Florida Panthers twice this season heading into the teams' third matchup Monday night.
Boston (18-11-4) put extra emphasis on its final game before a three-day break for the holidays and it paid off in a 4-1 victory over Atlanta on Thursday. The Bruins went 1-3-1 in their previous five contests.
"It was frustrating obviously for everybody," coach Claude Julien said. "And tonight we wanted to make sure that we ended our last home game here before we hit the road on a good note and feel good about ourselves and hopefully go on the road with a lot of confidence, and hopefully the same determination."
Enforcer Shawn Thornton scored twice to bring his total to a career-high seven goals while Patrice Bergeron added a goal and an assist for his third multpoint effort in four games. The Bruins enjoyed a 36-27 advantage in shots.
"If we play like we did tonight, it's really hard to play against us," defenseman Zdeno Chara said. "We're just constantly putting pressure on the opponent with the forecheck, with the close gaps, with the quality backchecks, putting a lot of shots on the net."
Boston had at least 37 shots in its two meetings with Florida (16-17-0), winning 4-0 at home on Nov. 18 and 3-1 on the road six days later. The Bruins scored three third-period goals each time.
Nathan Horton assisted on all three goals by Milan Lucic in the first meeting but had no points in his return to Florida. Horton spent his first six seasons with the Panthers.
The big winger is pointless in his last five games, one shy of his season-worst six-game drought Nov. 20-Dec. 1.
The Bruins visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday so Julien may choose to split the two starts between Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask, who each have beaten Florida once this season.
Thomas made 31 saves in the Nov. 24 victory, and he's 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in his last six starts against the Panthers. He leads the NHL with a 1.67 GAA.
Rask recorded his seventh career shutout in the first meeting with 41 saves. He's 2-1-0 with a 0.98 GAA against Florida.
The Bruins have limited the Panthers to two goals or fewer in the last 11 meetings, going 7-2-2 while holding them to one goal in 34 power-play chances. While Florida has the league's worst power play in 2010-11 at 9.6 percent, Boston is among the top penalty-killing teams at 86.8 percent.
The Panthers blew a three-goal lead in a 4-3 victory at Buffalo on Thursday to complete a 2-1-0 trip. Jason Garrison scored with 5:07 remaining after Chris Higgins had two of Florida's three first-period goals.
"We just had to re-focus and play with a little bit more composure," said Higgins, who scored for the first time since Nov. 12. "We handled the puck like a hot potato in the second period, but did a much better job of handling their pressure in the third."
Stephen Weiss had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to five games. Tomas Vokoun finished with a season-high 45 saves.
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