Bruins 8, Panthers 0

The Santa hats came flying out of the stands to celebrate Brad

Marchand’s third goal of the game, and the Boston fans began

taunting the Florida Panthers by chanting, ”Merry Christmas!”

The defending Stanley Cup champions are heading into the holiday

break the same way they started their summer: As the hottest team

in hockey.

Marchand had his first career hat trick and a career-high five

points to help Boston beat Florida 8-0 on Friday night, giving the

Bruins their sixth consecutive victory and their most lopsided win

of the season. Boston has won 20 of its last 23 games.

”Everyone’s playing the same level as last year,” Marchand

said. ”We need to keep it going the whole year. That’s the goal

right now.”

Marchand scored a short-handed goal to start things off,

assisted on Boston’s fourth and fifth goals and then scored twice

more in the third. After making it 8-0 midway through the third

period, the sold-out crowd of 17,565 showered the ice with all

kinds of headwear, including a fair number of Santa hats.

”You can’t put into words how the last year and a half have

gone,” said Marchand, who was fighting to make the team during

training camp in 2010 and wound up a key player on the NHL

champions. ”All the things kind of lined up, and it’s been

great.”

Patrice Bergeron had a goal and two assists, and Tuukka Rask

made 30 saves for Boston for his second straight shutout – a

scoreless streak of 155 minutes, 10 seconds. The backup to Vezina

and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Tim Thomas, Rask is 7-1-1 in his last

eight starts.

”Lots of goals. It’s good for the fans,” Rask said. ”You

pretty much feel if you don’t mess up you’re going to be

fine.”

Milan Lucic, Benoit Pouliot, Dennis Seidenberg and Gregory

Campbell also scored as Boston moved into the top spot in the

Eastern Conference. The Bruins have four days off for Christmas

before playing Phoenix on Wednesday.

Jose Theodore allowed four goals on 14 shots in the first period

and was replaced by Scott Clemmensen. The former Boston College

goalie made 17 saves the rest of the way.

”It was an old-fashioned butt kicking. There’s really nothing

to say,” Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. ”I’m usually a

glass-half-full guy, but there’s nothing to say.”

The Panthers were playing their third game in four nights,

including a 4-3 overtime loss to Ottawa on Thursday. They have lost

all three.

”It was a frustrating night,” defenseman Ed Jovanovski said.

”We’ve played a lot of road games and, not to make excuses, we’re

a pretty banged-up team right now. Now we have a couple of days off

and hopefully we can rest up and get some guys back.”

It was a matchup of division leaders and teams fighting for the

lead in the East.

And it was never close.

Marchand gave the Bruins the lead 6 minutes into the game,

circling around the back of the net and into the slot before

putting his shot off Theodore’s chest, under his arm and into the

net. Lucic made it 2-0 at 13:40 and Pouliot gave Boston a 3-0 lead

with the prettiest goal of the night, picking up the puck after a

faceoff in the Bruins zone and taking it the rest of the way down

the ice.

He made a move at the left circle, faked out Panthers defenseman

Dmitry Kulikov and then, falling to his knees, backhanded the puck

past Theodore.

It was obvious the Panthers’ goalie, who had a 40-save shutout

against Boston on Dec. 8 – the Bruins’ only regulation loss at home

since October – was having an off-night. But Dineen thought he

could wait another 89 seconds until the end of the period to make a

change.

Instead, Seidenberg made it 4-0 just 31 seconds later with a

slap shot from the point – assisted by Marchand.

Marchand also assisted when Campbell scored to make it 5-0 just

3:50 into the second. After Bergeron made it 6-0 later in the

period, Marchand opened the scoring in the third with a shot that

deflected into the net off a Panthers defenseman.

Tyler Seguin set up Marchand for a one-timer past Clemmensen to

make it 8-0.

Notes: PGA champion and rookie of the year Keegan Bradley, who

grew up in Massachusetts, dropped the ceremonial first puck. …

Bruins national anthem singer Rene Rancourt sang Christmas carols

during the break between the second and third periods. … Bruins F

Rich Peverley did not play because of an undisclosed injury. …

The Panthers were without F Stephen Weiss, their No. 2 scorer, who

left Thursday night’s game against Ottawa with an undisclosed

injury. The Panthers have lost five players to injury in their past

four games; they are without seven forwards in all.