SUNRISE, Fla. — The Bruins won with Tim Thomas  and nearly won without him last season. On Thursday, they won against him, picking up a 3-2 win over Thomas and the Panthers to improve to 4-2-0 on the season.
Reilly Smith was the hero for the Bruins, backhanding a loose puck in front past Thomas with just under a minute remaining in regulation to break a 2-2 tie. It was his first goal as a Bruin.
The game was a rather sloppy affair on the Bruins’ part, as they were playing without Adam McQuaid and using three defense pairings they rarely use. The Panthers were able to tie the game in the third period on a Jesse Winchester goal that came as a result of a Zdeno Chara  flub.
Daniel Paille  was the first Bruin to score against Thomas, beating him stick-side high on a partial breakaway. Dougie Hamilton, who was back in the lineup after sitting out the previous two games as a healthy scratch, made it 2-0 on his first goal of the year, a power-play blast from the point.
Former Bruins prospect Kris Versteeg got the Panthers on the board in the second period, beating Tuukka Rask  on a delayed slashing penalty against David Krejci , while the B’s were just barely holding on until Winchester tied the game.
The game didn’t draw well at all, though a large portion of the audience appeared to be Bruins fans. There was a good amount of pretty clear booing directed toward Thomas during pregame introductions. Thomas, who signed with Florida after sitting out the final year of his contract with the Bruins (a season in which he was traded to the Islanders), made his return from a groin injury that had kept him out the previous four games.
The Bruins will remain in Florida as they take on the Lightning on Saturday night in Tampa.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
– Though he was rather sloppy defensively, it was a good offensive return to the lineup for Hamilton, as he used his ability to get shots through to his advantage. His point shot on the power play made it through two Florida penalty killers, Chara in front and Thomas before finding the back of the net.
– Paille’s goal was the Merlot Line’s first of the season. The Bruins are at their best when they have four lines rolling, and Gregory Campbell ‘s line came out strong Thursday night. Paille looked destined to have a multi-point night early on, creating numerous chances in the first period, including a good feed to Shawn Thornton  in front.
– Rask was certainly the better of the two goalies early on, as he made a big save on Tomas Fleischmann in the opening minutes of the game after the Florida forward picked up a loose puck in the offensive zone and went on a partial break.
– Hamilton’s goal snapped an 0-for-12 power-play drought for the B’s. It was the Bruins’ third power-play goal this season, and two of them have come off slap shots with Chara in front.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
– For the second straight game, a shortcoming from Chara led to a 5-on-5 goal for the opposition. A game after letting Pavel Datsyuk  walk around him and feed Henrik Zetterberg , Chara couldn’t clear the puck past Winchester in front, submitting a feeble attempt that went off Winchester’s stick and allowed the Florida forward to whack the puck past Rask.
– Brad Marchand ‘s struggles continue. He was given the first shift of the game with his usual line of Patrice Bergeron  and Loui Eriksson, but was returned to the Chris Kelly  line on which he has played the last two games.
Marchand didn’t look good either, committing multiple neutral zone turnovers, which have become an issue with him this season. One of them occurred in the first period when he gave the puck away to Jonathan Huberdeau midway through the first period, and later in the shift the struggling winger couldn’t get the puck out of the zone past Marcel Goc along the wall.
– In theory, it was good that the Bruins found a way to get Hamilton back in the lineup without having to sit Matt Bartkowski, as the B’s sat McQuaid against the offensively lackluster Panthers, allowing Bartkowski to play a third straight game while Hamilton got back in without getting too cold. However, the Bruins found themselves running around quite a bit with relatively unused pairings (Chara-Hamilton, Bartkowski-Seidenberg, Krug-Boychuk) and had enough defensive lapses to give Florida more scoring opportunities than its used to having.
– It was not the Krejci line’s best game, as Versteeg’s goal came against them and they nearly allowed one in the opening minutes of the first period. The members of that line had one shot on goal apiece through the first two periods, while Jarome Iginla is still looking for his first goal as a Bruin. He nearly got it on a partial breakaway on the power play, but was stuffed by Thomas.