BOSTON — The Boston Bruins did what they were supposed to do against the NHL’s worst team Thursday night. Win.
But it wasn’t easy.
Or very pretty.
Did someone say UGLY?
“I think that’s it — that could be the line for tonight,” Patrice Bergeron said after his two goals, the second into an empty net, helped the sluggish Bruins defeat the Florida Panthers 4-1.
His coach agreed.
“Yeah, absolutely. We didn’t play that well tonight. We got a little bit better in the third,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “But some nights you don’t seem to be in sync and lately we’ve been a little off our game. Certainly not the way we want to play, certainly not our best games, let’s put it that way.”
The second period was the worst for the Bruins, who allowed their lead to be cut in half while being outshot 12-7.
“Try being behind the bench, watching the second period like that,” Julien said. “No doubt it wasn’t a pretty period. Certainly, there’s times when you have to bite your bottom lip and let things happen. Between the second and third, all they had to do was talk to each other and I think our guys are smart enough to know that they had to go back out there and be better.
“We picked it up a little bit, but there’s still lots more we can do as a team to play better than we did tonight.”
Shawn Thornton took advantage of a fortunate bounce in front of the net and tucked home his third goal of the season with 7:17 left. Bergeron scored his eighth into the empty net with 58 seconds remaining.
The Bruins got first-period goals from Zdeno Chara and Bergeron against former Boston College goalie Scott Clemmensen but then stumbled against the injury-ravaged Panthers.
Shawn Matthias’ short-handed goal, his eighth goal of the season, cut the Florida deficit in half in the second period. But unlike they had done in losing two of their last four, the Bruins didn’t completely blow their lead and improved to 18-4-3 with their second win of the year over the Panthers (7-15-6).
Thornton and Bergeron finished the scoring.
Tuukka Rask made 29 saves to move his record to 14-2-3. He is 6-1 lifetime against the Panthers, entering with an 0.98 goals-against average against Florida.
“We were just pretty bad out there at times,” Rask said. “Our heads were not in it, at all. That short-handed goal tells a lot about that. But we weren’t that bad, I don’t think.”
Boston, which avoided its first two-game regulation-time losing streak of the season, is 9-2-1 at home, 7-0-1 against the Southeast Division. Florida slipped to 3-8-1 on the road and fell to 1-7-2 against the Northeast Division.
The Panthers entered the third period a goal down but have won only once (1-13-2) this season when trailing after two.
They have lost five straight games and eight of their last nine.
“It’s frustrating,” said defenseman Brian Campbell, a minus-2 Thursday and a minus-19 this season. “It’s definitely not something you think about over the course of the summer and winter. You want to build on things (from) last year. It’s not going that way and it’s very frustrating.”
The Bruins are 17-0 when holding the opposition to two goals or less. They killed both Florida power plays, running their current kill streak to 22 in a row.
And they did present Julien with his 246th win as the Boston coach, allowing him to break a tie with the great Milt Schmidt for second place on the club’s career list.
“I certainly don’t perceive myself in the same category as Milt Schmidt,” Julien said. “You have to understand it’s a different era. Ties were ties and that’s the way it ended. We play 82 games and I think they played somewhere around the 60 mark, if not less. A lot different era.
“It’s a number and it’s a number of wins, but certainly I’m not ready to compare myself to him.”
The two goals by Bergeron, two assists by Marchand and one by Tyler Seguin gave that line — the so-called second line — 46 points in the last 13 games. The Bruins are 10-2-1 and the line has seven of the 10 winning goals in that stretch.
NOTES: On top of all the injuries they’ve already had, the Panthers announced that right winger Kris Versteeg will have knee surgery and miss the rest of the season. … Defenseman Adam McQuaid missed the game for Boston with an undisclosed injury (he was hit on the right arm by a shot in Pittsburgh on Tuesday night). “Just a minor injury,” said Julien, who added that he expects McQuaid back for Saturday’s home game against Washington. With McQuaid out, Aaron Johnson dressed for his fifth game of the season. … The Bruins signed winger Anthony Camara, a third-round pick in the 2011 draft, to an entry level contract. He had 36 goals for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League this season. … The Panthers began a stretch of six of the next seven games on the road. They host the Islanders on Saturday and then hit the road for five straight. … Just as Celtics counterpart Doc Rivers had done the previous day, Julien reacted to Wes Welker leaving the Patriots, saying, “Better left with no comments because, honestly, you lose a good player, but we don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors with the organization. They must have had a reason to do it. I’m certainly not going to criticize the organization, but I liked him as a player.” … With the NHL trade deadline coming April 4, the upper level was loaded with scouts.