ATLANTA – When the Boston Bruins came up small last week in their so-called revenge game against Pittsburgh following the controversial headshot by the Penguins Matt Cooke on Bruins top center Marc Savard, many left the Bruins for dead.
But for the second game in a row since that Pittsburgh game – both wins -- the Bruins played their game to near perfection, forcing their opponent, Atlanta, into turnovers, preventing the Thrashers from carrying the puck on the rush as is their game and limiting scoring chances.
When it was all said and done, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask posted his fourth shutout in a 4-0 victory in the battle for the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot before 14,042 at Philips Arena.
After not mustering much of an effort in last Thursday's 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh at TD Banknorth Garden, the Bruins rebounded with a 2-1 victory over the 10th-place New York Rangers on Sunday and ended the four-game winning streak of ninth-place Atlanta, which had snuck to within one point of Boston before Tuesday's result pushed that margin back to three.
"Obviously, we were kind of [ticked] off and we didn't like the way that we were being criticized and whatnot, but the best thing for us – or for anyone – is when you're being criticized to go out there and do something about it," said Bruins winger Milan Lucic, who had a goal and an assist. "We were able to do it the last two games and there should be no looking back from there. Keep moving forward and not be satisfied with what we've done in these last two games. We should push for more and we have to want more and destiny's in our hands in where we can finish in the standings."
Since trading their superstar Ilya Kovalchuk on Feb. 4, Atlanta went a surprising 8-6-3 entering Tuesday to remain in the playoff race. But coach John Anderson said he thought his team was nervous in playing perhaps the franchise's biggest game since making its only playoff appearance three years ago.
"We looked very nervous with the puck," he said. "We looked young out there, quite honestly."
Conversely, Boston looked composed, much as they did on Sunday when they led 2-0 until the Rangers scored in the final 3:04 of regulation.
While Atlanta had difficulty in mounting too many scoring chances, Colby Armstrong was awarded a penalty shot after Dennis Wideman hooked him with 3:05 left in the second period and Boston up 2-0. Rask, though, got enough of his catching glove on Armstrong's wrister to keep Atlanta off the scoreboard.
"I just try to be patient and look if he's going to deke or shoot," said Rask, the League leader in goals-against average, who made 27 saves. "And it looked like he was winding up for a long distance and a lot of guys like to go glove side or five-hole, so I just guessed it right."
Boston coach Claude Julien called that – and then a goal by Boston about three minutes later – the decisive plays of the game.
"Again, the turning point that everybody's probably talking about is 2-0 and Tuukka stops that penalty shot and we come back with seven seconds left, I think, we scored that third goal," Julien said. "That was huge for us."
In fact, Atlanta was called for icing with eight seconds left in the second period that led to the goal that seemed to break Atlanta's back. Patrice Bergeron won the faceoff back to Zdeno Chara, whose point shot was deflected by Miroslav Satan with 3.5 seconds left in the second period. Lucic said the puck went off his stick and he thought he was the last Bruin to touch it, but the goal officially went to Satan.
Center David Krejci, who has 11 points in his last 10 games, helped Boston to build the 2-0 lead. Krejci scored the game's first goal at 9:25 of the first period when Michael Ryder skated out from behind the net with the puck and made a goal-mouth feed to Krejci, who backhanded it past Johan Hedberg (29 saves).
Krejci then assisted on Lucic's goal with 12:01 left in the second period. After a faceoff win in Atlanta's zone, he passed the puck from along the right-wing boards to Lucic in the slot and Lucic beat Hedberg with a wrist shot.
Steve Begin put Boston up 4-0 1:46 into the third period when Hedberg could not find the rebound of Lucic's hard slap shot, and Begin put the rebound into an open net.
While the Thrashers are by no means out of the playoff race with nine games left, they will have to avoid a losing streak to stay in it. Before their current 4-0-1 run, they had lost five straight in regulation. They also had a nine-game winless streak (0-6-3) streak earlier this season.
More than one Atlanta player called the result disappointing.
"We had way too many turnovers tonight," said Thrashers defenseman Ron Hainsey, who was minus-2 after a three-point, plus-3 effort in Sunday's 3-1 win at Philadelphia. "And that's the bottom line."