'Canes test tough Bruins; Boston steps up in third.


Byline: Bud Barth

BOSTON - On a weekend when New Englanders had blizzards on their mind, the Bruins had their hands full fighting off Hurricanes.

Embroiled in what coach Claude Julien called "about as tough a game as we've had in a long time," the Bruins lost center Patrice Bergeron to another head injury in the second period, then dissolved a 1-1 tie with third-period goals by David Krejci and Shawn Thornton - plus an empty-netter by Stephane Yelle with 2.2 seconds left - to finally blow away pesky Carolina, 4-2, before another sellout crowd (17,565) yesterday at the Garden.

Boston, which had scored 19 goals in its previous three games, hadn't been involved in one of these low-scoring grinders in more than two weeks.

"It's good practice for the second half, I'd say," Thornton said after scoring his fourth career goal (out of 10) against Carolina, and adding a team-high six hits. "The second half of the season, a lot of games are tighter than in the first half. It's a little early to be talking about down the stretch, but it's good practice for when we get there."

Clad once again in their executioner black, the B's extended their home winning streak to 13 games and won for the 13th time in 15 games overall. They are off to their best 32-game start in 79 years (23-5-4).

The Bruins increased, at least temporarily, their Northeast Division lead to a whopping 11 points over Montreal, and their Eastern Conference lead to four points (with three games in hand) over the New York Rangers. Both the Rangers and Canadiens played later last night.

Phil Kessel, who was unable to capitalize on a handful of terrific scoring chances, picked up an assist to extend his amazing point streak to 17 games, tying Ray Bourque for the fifth-longest run in club history.

Manny Fernandez, who saved Thursday night's win over Toronto with 13 third-period saves in relief of Tim Thomas, started yesterday and made 32 saves. He was especially sharp in the first period when Boston was outshot, 13-9, stopping old friend Sergei Samsonov's rebound bid at 6:09 and stoning both Patrick Eaves and Tuomo Ruutu from the slot 35 seconds apart.

Fernandez, who won for the ninth time in 10 starts, now has a better goals-against average than Thomas (2.02 to 2.15) and is in the same ballpark in save percentage (.927 to .932), which seems to have raised his confidence infinitely.

"I don't necessarily stop to think about it," Fernandez said, "but we knew it was going to be a tight game going...

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