ATLANTA (AP) - The Boston Bruins had plenty of chances to score on the power play.
They waited until the Atlanta Thrashers evened things up.
P.J. Axelsson scored with 7:02 remaining and the Bruins edged closer to playoff contention, beating the Thrashers 3-2 Tuesday night.
Boston spent much of the third period with an extra skater - and even a couple of two-man advantages. But the teams were at even strength when Axelsson scored his first game-winning goal of the year.
After the Bruins controlled a faceoff, Brad Isbister played keepaway in the corner, then passed off to Wayne Primeau behind the net. Primeau spotted Axelsson alone in front, and the winger knocked his ninth goal past Thrashers goalie Keri Lehtonen.
"It was a hardworking goal," Axelsson said. "I didn't see any of it. I just shot it. I was too close to the net. There was a lot of luck in it."
Boston is playing its best hockey of the season, winning for the fourth time in six games and losing the other two in shootouts. The Bruins closed to within four points of the Thrashers, who hold down the eighth spot - the final playoff position - in the Eastern Conference.
"We've been playing consistently good for three or four weeks, but not always getting the results," coach Mike Sullivan said. "This group is starting to define itself."
The Thrashers are mired in a three-game losing streak - their worst slump since a five-game skid that ended in early December. Atlanta followed that with a 13-2-3 run, surging into contention for the first playoff berth in franchise history.
Now, they need another turnaround.
"When you look at the standings, it's all jumbled up," Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. "There's still plenty of games. But you don't want to give up games that could come back to haunt you at the end of the year."
Hartley was very upset with the officials, who called five straight penalties on the home team in the first 10:04 of the third period. The Thrashers spent more than eight minutes killing them off - including two stretches totaling 1:43 in which they were two skaters down.
Afterward, Hartley complained to an NHL supervisor who attended the game.
"I thought I got the answers I wanted, but it doesn't matter," the coach said. "It's still a loss in the standings."
The Thrashers killed off the penalties, but Axelsson scored just over a minute after the last one ended.
"Obviously, we wanted to score on the power play," he said. "We had a lot of chance to score. We just missed. It was nice to see we didn't slow down."
The Bruins scored a couple of fluky goals off Lehtonen, and the Thrashers picked up one when Boston goalie Tim Thomas knocked the puck into his own net.
With 4 1/2 minutes left in the first period, the puck took an unexpected bounce off the boards behind the net and wound up in front of Lehtonen. Marco Sturm swatted it just inside the post before the goalie could get a stick on it, giving Boston a 1-0 lead.
Brad Stuart tied the game at 2 just past the midway point of the second period. With the Bruins on the power play, Stuart skated in on Lehtonen's left side and fired the puck in front of the net. It might have gone wide, but Atlanta defenseman Niclas Havelid inadvertently deflected it into his own net.
The Thrashers grabbed a 2-1 lead with goals just 1:25 apart late in the first period. Scott Mellanby deflected in a power-play goal from about 20 feet in front of the net off a slapshot by Jaroslav Modry.
Then Marc Savard scored a strange one on a break into the Bruins zone. He skated past the net but wound up with the goal when he attempted to pass in front. Thomas, sprawled in the crease, knocked the puck in himself with a swat of his blocker.
Notes: RW Peter Bondra returned to the Thrashers lineup after missing 22 games with a groin injury. He played about 15 minutes and was held without a shot. ... Atlanta is hopeful that injured C Bobby Holik will be able to resume skating next week. He's out with a broken foot. ... Both goalies got plenty of help from the guys in front of the. Thrashers D Greg de Vries blocked four shots, and RW J.P. Vigier got in front of three. For Boston, D Stuart and RW Tom Fitzgerald each had a pair of blocks.
|Marco Sturm (18) ASST: Patrice Bergeron (24)|
1 - 0 BOS
|PPG - Scott Mellanby (6) ASST: Jaroslav Modry (22), Marian Hossa (35)|
1 - 1 Tie
|Marc Savard (21) ASST: Ilya Kovalchuk (33)|
2 - 1 ATL
|PPG - Brad Stuart (7) ASST: Brad Boyes (19), Patrice Bergeron (25)|
2 - 2 Tie
|P.J. Axelsson (9) ASST: Wayne Primeau (6), Brad Isbister (12)|
3 - 2 BOS
|Power Play %||17.8%||17.8%|
|% on Road||14.7%||18.0%|
|% at Home||21.2%||17.7%|
|Serge Aubin Delaying Game-Puck over glass|
|Brad Isbister Too many men/ice - bench|
|Hal Gill Tripping against Niclas Havelid|
|Andy Sutton Holding against Marco Sturm|
|Marco Sturm Hooking against Greg De Vries|
|Patrick Leahy Hooking|
|Jean-Pierre Vigier Hooking against Brad Boyes|
|Andrew Alberts Hooking against Marc Savard|
|Jaroslav Modry Holding against Nick Boynton|
|Peter Bondra Hooking against P.J. Axelsson|
|Marian Hossa Tripping against Patrice Bergeron|
|Andy Sutton Roughing|
|Andy Sutton Roughing against Brad Boyes|
|Patrik Stefan Hooking against Patrice Bergeron|