ATLANTA – Boston was in danger of giving up the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Fortunately for the Bruins, they had the right team chasing them.
David Krejci scored a goal and assisted on another, Tuukka Rask blanked Atlanta for the second time this season, and the Bruins kept up their mastery of the Thrashers with a crucial 4-0 victory Tuesday night.
A four-game winning streak had pushed the Thrashers within a point of Boston for the eighth playoff berth. But Atlanta just can’t figure out the Bruins, who have won 10 straight in the series – including all four meetings this season – since their last loss on Dec. 29, 2007.
Boston extended its lead over Atlanta to three points and moved within a point of the two teams ahead of them in the East: Montreal and Philadelphia. The Flyers lost 2-0 to Ottawa.
“There should be no looking back from here,” said Milan Lucic, who also scored for Boston. “These last 10 games, destiny is in our hands. We want to finish it.”
Krejci put the Bruins ahead less than 10 minutes into the opening period, then set up Lucic’s goal that made it 2-0. Miroslav Satan scored off a deflection with just four seconds left in the second, and Steve Begin finished off the Thrashers with a goal early in the third.
“It is very disappointing for us,” Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg said. “They beat us at every situation. They beat us at faceoffs, goaltending, loose pucks. They beat us all over the ice.”
Rask stopped a penalty shot and made 27 saves in all to beat Atlanta for the third time this season, including a pair of 4-0 victories. His goals-against average versus the Thrashers dropped to 0.97.
“That’s not too bad,” said Rask, who earned his fourth shutout of the season. “It’s really hard to explain. It’s just something that happens. I’m seeing the puck well. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
Atlanta had outscored opponents 18-9 during its winning streak, which improbably moved the team that traded Ilya Kovalchuk just before the Olympic break back into the thick of the playoff race.
Rask stymied the Thrashers’ surge. His biggest save came on Colby Armstrong, who had scored four goals in Atlanta’s last four games.
Going in on a breakaway with the Thrashers trailing 2-0, the winger was hooked from behind by Dennis Wideman and awarded a penalty shot. But Armstrong failed to convert, his attempt at the upper right corner turned away by Rusk’s quick glove.
“He gets that and it’s a different game,” Rask said.
The Bruins went ahead at 9:25 of the opening period thanks to good work along the boards by Krejci. He worked the puck behind the Atlanta net before sliding it back to Michael Ryder, who popped out in front to lure away the defence in front of Hedberg. Krejci slipped out on the other side, took a return pass from Ryder and stuffed the puck in.
Krejci set up Boston’s next goal at 7:59 of the second. Lucic circled alone in front of the net, took a pass from his teammate and ripped a shot over Hedberg’s glove hand to double the lead.
The real killer for the Thrashers came just before the end of the period. Patrice Bergeron won a faceoff, sliding the puck back to Zdeno Chara at the blue line. The big defenceman fired it toward the net, and Satan managed to deflect it past Hedberg at 19:56.
“A 3-0 lead is a lot better than 2-0,” Lucic said. “When you’re able to score like that late in the period, it gives you a lot of momentum going into the intermission. We had a great feeling going to the third period.”
Any thoughts of an improbable comeback were quickly snuffed out by Begin’s goal less than two minutes into the third. Some fans headed to the exits while the Bruins celebrated their four-goal cushion.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We have to keep plugging,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “But it was a very important win for us.”
The Thrashers, who have made the playoffs only one time since entering the NHL in 1999, seemed overwhelmed by one of the biggest games in franchise history.
“We looked very nervous with the puck,” Atlanta coach John Anderson said. “I would say in the two years I’ve been here, this is probably one of the most meaningful games we’ve played. We just weren’t doing things like we have been the last few games.”
NOTES: The Thrashers have been shut out four times this season. … Boston C Vladimir Sobotka went out in the first period with an undisclosed injury and didn’t return. … Atlanta tough man Eric Boulton traded punches with Shawn Thornton and tried to lure Begin into a fight late in the game. The linesmen stepped in, and Boulton alone went to the box for cross-checking.