Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 17,565 that often broke into chants of "Let's Go Bruins," they came out strong in the first, outshooting the defending Eastern Conference champion Penguins 16-10.
"He got brought into it, I guess, pretty quickly," said Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, who played with what he called an "upper respiratory" illness. "First period, we had a lot of penalties, but he played well. He was the difference for us."
"If it wasn't for him (Sabourin) tonight, early on, we would have been down by two or three," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said.
It was the Penguins' fourth overtime game (3-1) in their seven contests this season.
Kessel also scored a power-play goal in regulation for the Bruins. Miroslav Satan had the Penguins' score.
Sabourin had 35 saves and Thomas 31.
Like many times last season, the postgame questions focused around Boston's lack of scoring.
"It's an easy topic to talk about, guys, because we lost," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "We can go on about this if you want, but I think it was a hard-fought game with solid goaltending at both ends. As far as I'm concerned, we were the better team."
The Penguins went ahead 1-0 when Satan scored on the rebound of Malkin's shot 18:51 into the opening period. Malkin broke down the right wing and fired a backhander on Thomas, before Satan flipped the rebound in from the left side of the crease.
Satan, signed as a free agent on July 3, has a team-leading four goals.
"The first period, I think they had 16 shots -- that got me right in the game right away," Sabourin said. "I didn't have to wait."
Boston tied it at 1 on Kessel's power-play goal 13:53 into the second when he unloaded a wrister over Sabourin's glove from the top of the right circle.
The Bruins nearly took the lead in the closing seconds of the second when Patrice Bergeron's rebound of his own shot caromed off Sabourin and trickled past the side of the net with 2.8 seconds to play.
The teams played 3-on-3 for the final 1:35 of the extra period after Savard was whistled for hooking and Jordan Staal was sent off for slashing 17 seconds later.
With the local sports landscape crowded by the Red Sox's recent AL Championship Series loss against Tampa Bay on Sunday night, the Patriots' Monday night matchup against Denver about 35 miles southwest of the city and the defending NBA champion Celtics' season opener a week away, the Bruins were looking to earn some of the fans' interest with a good start this season.
"I was more, I guess, nervous about getting back out there and playing in front of our fans more than anything else," Bergeron said of his first game since missing most of last season after suffering a severe concussion.
Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs met the media before the game and discussed the dwindling interest in the team the past few seasons when crowds were commonly about two-thirds full: "If this team wins, people are going to come back," he said.
- Bruins LW P.J. Axelsson missed his second straight due to muscle spasms.
- Crosby has a three-game point streak with a goal and six assists.
- Malkin has a goal and seven assists in his past three games.
- Boston was the last team to have its home opener; it came after a four-game road trip that went 2-1-1.
- Crosby, who had his first career fight against the Bruins' Andrew Ference at the TD Banknorth Garden last season, was whistled for roughing along with Savard.
- Bergeron had seven shots on goal in the first two periods.