Joey MacDonald stopped 26 shots in his first career start with Boston and the Bruins inched a little closer to a playoff spot with a 4-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
“Timmy has been playing unbelievable,” MacDonald said after giving Thomas his first night off since Jan. 20. “I just have to come in and make sure the team has a chance to win.”
Acquired on waivers from Detroit on Feb. 24, MacDonald was on top of his game right away in his ninth career start. The 27-year-old, who was 1-5-1 with Detroit before being released, stopped John Madden with his facemask in the opening five minutes and stopped Sergei Brylin in close at the 10-minute mark.
“Everyone was really confident in him,” said Marco Sturm, who scored for the Bruins along with Aaron Ward, Brandon Bochenski and P.J. Axelsson. “He made some good saves right away. After that, you didn’t have to think about him.”
The win was the Bruins’ seventh in 11 games (7-3-1) and pulled them within four points of Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They have played three less games than the defending Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes.
“It’s a good win,” MacDonald said. “I thought the boys played great. Most of the shots I saw. When I gave up a rebound, the guys took care of it.”
Well, almost all of them.
Mike Rupp scored on a third-period rebound for the Devils, who lost consecutive games for the first time since the end of January.
“We had nothing really,” Devils captain Patrik Elias said. “We were flat the first half of the game and maybe started skating a little better. It just wasn’t good enough. There just wasn’t enough urgency on our part.”
Ward, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Rangers last week, gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead midway through the first period with a shot from the blue-line that found the upper corner of the net.
“I think I’ve played them four times in the last three weeks,” Ward said of his latest Devils’ encounter. “I feel like I dream about them in my sleep. It’s essential that you don’t allow them the lead because then they get right into their solid system.”
Sturm made it 2-0 19 seconds into the second period with the Devils finishing off a power play. Patrice Bergeron deflected an ill-advised pass by Scott Gomez near the New Jersey blue-line and Sturm beat Martin Brodeur on a breakaway.
Rupp spoiled MacDonald’s shutout bid at 6:40 of the third period, shortly after a Devils’ power play ended.
Bochenski, who got the primary assist on Ward’s first goal as a Bruin, gave Boston breathing room less than two minutes later, redirecting a Phil Kessel pass past Brodeur.
Axelsson added an empty-net goal with 41.7 seconds to play.
“The way we played, we didn’t create much,” Brodeur said. “We didn’t stay in their zone a long time or do any of the things that make us successful. I don’t know what it was; the Bruins, the way they played us, or us. We just didn’t have that drive to compete today.”
NOTES: Devils right wing Brian Gionta returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a groin injury and assisted on Rupp’s goal. …New Jersey RW Cam Janssen sat out the first game of a three-game suspension for a late hit on Toronto D Tomas Kaberle on Friday. …Sturm has points in six straight games (2 goals, 5 assists). …New Jersey has lost three straight at home, falling to 22-8-5 at the Continental Airlines Arena.