BOSTON – The chorus of cheering fans was a welcome change for goalie Tuukka Rask after the Boston Bruins won just their second home game in nearly three months.
The reaction to Sunday’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers was far more enjoyable than the send-off on Thursday night when the crowd didn’t appreciate Boston’s lacklustre performance in a 3-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“At least we didn’t get booed out again,” Rask said after Sunday’s victory tightened the Bruins’ grasp on the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
For the Rangers, who need a dramatic turnaround to overtake the Bruins, it was a very disappointing performance in a critical game as they dropped their third in a row.
“Sure, this was a team that we’re chasing and we needed those points,” New York’s Vinny Prospal said. “It’s a big loss for us, but, on the other hand, we can’t just say it’s over.”
Miroslav Satan broke a scoreless tie with his fifth goal of the season on a pinpoint pass from Andrew Ference with 3:24 left in the second period. Dennis Wideman made it 2-0 with 9:40 to go in the game on a backhander from the left circle, his fourth goal of the season and first since Jan. 9, also against New York.
Then the Rangers, who generated few solid scoring chances, cut it to 2-1 with 3:04 remaining on a goal by Michael Del Zotto. They pulled goalie Henrik Lundqvist and swarmed around Rask in an effort to tie the game.
But they fell short.
Boston has 76 points with 11 games remaining. The Rangers remained in 10th place with 71 points and 10 games left. The Atlanta Thrashers are ninth, a point behind the Bruins.
“It’s been an effort the past few weeks to try to stay positive,” Lundqvist said.
Rask has played very well since taking over the No. 1 spot from Tim Thomas on Feb. 4.
“I can’t even remember when we won the last game 2-1,” he said, “but it’s something the team needs. We need these tight games and we need to win them. I think that’s going to help us.”
The last time the Bruins won 2-1 at home was Jan. 1 in the Winter Classic over the Philadelphia Flyers. But that was at Fenway Park. Since then, they were 1-8-3 at TD Garden before Sunday.
The low point might have been Thursday’s shutout loss in which they managed just 17 shots.
“I don’t think we were thinking too much about the loss last game,” Boston’s Milan Lucic said. “We knew (the Rangers) were right behind us in the standings and we knew it was going to be a playoff-type game.”
The Rangers had a good opportunity midway through the second period with a four-minute power play after a double-minor penalty to Zdeno Chara. But they didn’t get a single shot on goal.
“It was a key point in the game,” New York’s Chris Drury said. “It kind of livened them up a little bit.”
Satan scored just 23 seconds after Boston’s Daniel Paille failed on a penalty shot that deflected off Lundqvist’s glove.
“He comes up with a big save there and then the next shift they score a goal where we have three guys staring at the puck,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “It’s a tough one.”
And a satisfying one for the Bruins, especially after Thursday night’s performance that drew boos from their own fans.
“We were skating a lot more. We were battling,” Wideman said. “We were a lot more prepared to play than we were on Thursday.”
NOTES: Boston plays at Atlanta on Tuesday night. The Rangers’ next game is at home against the New York Islanders on Wednesday night. … The Bruins are 0-for-17 on the power play in their last six games. Top playmaker Marc Savard missed his seventh straight game with a Grade 2 concussion. … Eleven penalties were called in the first period, starting with fighting majors against Boston’s Steve Begin and New York’s Brandon Prust just 2:40 into the game. … The Rangers won the season series 3-1. … New York’s Ryan Callahan missed the third period with a lower body injury.