BOSTON – David Krejci is finding his scoring touch.
The rookie scored for the third straight game Saturday, sending Boston past the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 for the Bruins’ sixth straight victory.
The first time Krejci beat an NHL goalie this season came in a shootout against the Carolina Hurricanes and didn’t count in his statistics, but his last three have, including the shot he flipped over Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg in the third period off a pass from Phil Kessel to tie the game.
“That first goal gave him (Krejci) a lot of confidence,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Now he’s finding the back of the net. It’s tough when you get to February and you haven’t scored a goal.”
In the shootout, Kessel faked Hedberg and then put a backhander behind him for the only goal as the Bruins stretched their unbeaten streak to eight games (7-0-1). They are alone in sixth place in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“Kessell lost it off his stick, he just whiffed at it,” Hedberg said. “That wasn’t what he wanted to do and it screwed me up.”
Boston goaltender Tim Thomas stopped NHL goal-scoring leader Ilya Kovalchuk of Atlanta on a last-chance shootout attempt.
“I think everybody’s in a playoff mode now,” Julien said. “Every team that’s in the race is thinking that way. And there doesn’t seem to be many teams packing it in.”
The teams traded goals in the first period, with Glen Murray’s 15th giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead at 6:06. But Kovalchuk, after being pulled down by Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman, came back with his 42nd just 35 seconds later on a penalty shot to tie it.
The Bruins’ Marc Savard recorded his NHL-leading 59th assist on Murray’s goal. Atlanta had a 5-on-3 for 38 seconds in the second period, but Thomas made spectacular saves, twice stopping Mark Recchi on the doorstep.
The Bruins had their own 5-on-3 for 1:25 later in the period, but Hedberg denied Savard and Krejci seconds apart. Atlanta centre Bobby Holik came out of the penalty box and then broke up a play at the Bruins blue line as the power play ended. That sent Eric Perrin and Jim Slater away on a 2-on-1, with Slater picking the corner against Thomas for his third goal of the season at 17:18 of the second period.
Atlanta missed a chance to extend its lead in the third period, but Aaron Ward knocked Recchi’s stick out of his hands as he faced an open net.
“I was just trying to get there as quick as I could and I got there, but he whacked my stick out of my hand and I wasn’t able to control it,” Recchi said.
The Bruins buzzed around Hedberg in the third period, with Murray’s shot ringing off the post with 10 minutes left.
Kovalchuk nearly won it in overtime when he stole the puck after Thomas left the net to clear it. But Thomas scrambled back and made the save.