Rapid Reaction: Bruins 6, Panthers 2

BOSTON -- The Bruins made Tim Thomas' return to Boston a miserable one.

In his first game on TD Garden ice since leaving the Bruins organization after the 2011-12 season for a self-imposed hiatus from the game, Thomas wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be as the Bruins defeated the Florida Panthers 6-2 Tuesday night.

The Bruins received a pair of goals from Milan Lucic, while Zdeno Chara, Reilly Smith, Shawn Thornton and David Krejci contributed one goal apiece. Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask finished with 28 saves.

Thomas made 35 saves in the loss. He also received a high-sticking penalty with 3.4 seconds remaining when he drilled the Bruins' Carl Soderberg after the whistle.

With the win, Boston is 5-0-1 in its last six games and 6-1-1 in the last eight.

The Bruins gained an early 1-0 lead on Lucic's 14th goal of the season. Linemate Jarome Iginla shot the puck on net, and with Lucic fighting for position in front, he fell to his knees. Thomas made the initial save, but Lucic knocked in the rebound at 7:41 of the first period.

Boston took a 2-0 lead at 15:26 of the first period when Chara scored his 13th goal of the season. Lucic was creating havoc in front when Chara took a shot from the right point. The puck pinballed and finally rolled in past Thomas.

Boston finished the opening period with a 19-8 advantage in shots.

The Bruins continued to dominate in the second period as Lucic notched his second goal of the game to give Boston a 3-0 lead at 1:46. During a partial scramble in front of Thomas, Lucic took two whacks at the puck before it trickled to the off post, where he finally knocked it in. Boston gained a 4-0 lead when Smith finished off a nifty passing play and collected the power-play goal at 14:54. It was his 18th goal of the season.

Florida finally got on the board and snapped Rask's chance for his sixth shutout of the season when former Bruin Brad Boyes scored his 14th of the season at 19:27 of the second period. He finished off a cross-ice pass through the slot from teammate Nick Bjugstad. As the period ended, Rask was nearly at the blue line when he slammed his stick against the boards as he exited the ice.

Early in the third period, the Bruins' Shawn Thornton was in the penalty box for high sticking, and the Panthers capitalized, scoring a power-play goal at 4:00 to cut their deficit to 4-2. Florida's Dmitry Kulikov's shot from the point found its way through traffic and past Rask.

Thornton has been an offensive beast the last two games. On Tuesday, he gained control of the puck in the offensive zone, fought off two defenders in the corner, went to the net and beat Thomas with a nifty backhander to give the Bruins a 5-2 lead at 8:14 of the third.

Krejci, who had three assists, made it 6-2 when he collected a turnover and beat Thomas from the slot at 17:51. It was his 11th tally of the season.

BACK IN ACTION: After missing 22 games due to a broken right fibula, Bruins forward Chris Kelly returned to the lineup. Coach Claude Julien said he wanted to ease the veteran forward back into the lineup, so Kelly centered the team's fourth line, with Thornton on the right side and Gregory Campbell on the left wing. Boston's third line consisted of Soderberg at center, with Daniel Paille on the left and Loui Eriksson on the right.

Kelly was tested early during his first shift when he was on the receiving end of a big open-ice hit by the Panthers' Mike Weaver. Kelly quickly got to his feet, then created a quality scoring chance. At the start of the third period, Julien tweaked his lines and had Kelly centering Soderberg and Eriksson. With Kelly back, forward Jordan Caron was a healthy scratch.

MILESTONE: During a TV timeout in the first period, the Bruins recognized Chara with a video board tribute for reaching the 500-point plateau Monday night at the New York Islanders. Fans gave Chara a standing ovation, which he acknowledged by lifting his stick to the 17,565 in attendance.

UP NEXT: The Bruins have five games remaining before the Olympic break, with four of those at TD Garden. Boston hosts the Montreal Canadiens Thursday night at 7.