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.