Boston Bruins left wing Brad Marchand (63) fights for position against Florida Panthers defenseman Dylan Olsen (4) and goalie Tim Thomas (34) as the puck squirts away during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
BOSTON - David Krejci's third career hat trick couldn't have come much easier.
Krejci scored twice while all alone in the slot, then added an empty-net goal with 14 seconds remaining of the Boston Bruins' 4-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
"I didn't think I had another option," Krejci said when asked about his reputation to set up teammates for empty-netters instead of shooting. "I also knew I had two goals already, so why not go for it?"
Jarome Iginla added a goal and an assist for the Bruins, who kept former Boston goalie Tim Thomas busy all night with 39 shots on goal.
The Bruins welcomed back Thomas, who may be saying goodbye to Florida after a series of deals general manager Dale Tallon made to retool the struggling Panthers' lineup. The biggest move was bringing back goalie Roberto Luongo in a trade with Vancouver, leaving the Panthers for the moment with the two goalies from the 2011 Stanley Cup finals.
Thomas, the 2011 Conn Smythe Trophy winner after the Bruins beat Luongo and the Canucks in seven games, said he needed to speak with Tallon before commenting on his future and whether he would consider waving his no-trade clause if the Panthers asked.
"I've got to see the situation and see what they're thinking," Thomas said. "That's something that hadn't been really discussed up until this point."
Thomas showed why a contender may be interested in the 39-year-old, making 35 saves. He allowed three goals before Krejci scored in an empty net.
"Defensively, we weren't very good," Florida coach Peter Horachek said. "And there were a number of people that didn't compete. If you have that, you don't have consistency of your whole group, then you're going to run into problems."
Boston backup goalie Chad Johnson had a much quieter night, facing 24 shots as the Bruins beat Florida for the seventh straight time. Johnson had a shutout until Florida defenceman Brian Campbell lifted a high backhander from the blue line toward the net. The puck deflected off Boston defenceman Matt Bartkowski's stick with 7:13 left.
The Bruins scored twice in the first period, then took a 3-0 lead on Krejci's goal with 48 seconds left in the second. Kevan Miller fed a pass to the slot to Krejci, who stood all alone and had enough time to set up a wrist shot that beat Thomas on the stick side.
Thomas also had little chance on Krejci's first goal after defenceman Tom Gilbert's turnover next to the net. Krejci grabbed the puck, faked Thomas into going down and lifted a wrist shot in.
The Bruins scored again when Thomas allowed a long rebound off a shot by Jordan Caron and the puck bounced to Iginla at the opposite circle for a one-timer.
Thomas was on the bench, pulled for the extra skater as the Panthers tried to rally, when Krejci completed the Bruins' first hat trick in more than two years. Krejci was also the last Boston player to score three goals in a game, doing it against New Jersey on March 1, 2012.
"David has always been a pass-first kind of guy, but he's got a good shot," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "I think his approach this year has been a little bit more about shooting."
Notes: Johnson has won six of his last seven starts, with the only loss coming in overtime at Buffalo last week. ... The Bruins improved to 2-1-1 since the Olympic break. ... Florida last beat Boston on March 15, 2012. ... In addition to the Luongo deal, the Panthers also traded defenceman Mike Weaver to Montreal for a fifth-round draft choice in 2015, and signed forward Brad Boyes to a two-year contract extension. ... After Boston's second goal, Thomas skated to the Panthers bench and switched masks after starting the game with a nondescript black helmet with a cage.