Matt Hunwick took the most valuable penalty of the season for the Boston Bruins, who wrapped up one of the final Eastern Conference playoff berths on the next-to-last day of the regular season.
With Hunwick in the box for hooking, Daniel Paille, Blake Wheeler and Steve Begin all scored shorthanded in a span of 1:04 early in the second period and the Bruins went on to a 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, clinching their third straight trip to the postseason.
Boston set an NHL record for the three quickest shorthanded goals and became the first team ever to score three shorthanded goals on the same penalty kill.
Most important, though, with 89 points Boston has moved into sixth place and could finish there if Montreal loses at home to Toronto later Saturday or if the Bruins pick up at least a point in their regular-season finale Sunday afternoon in Washington. They can drop no lower than the seventh seed.
"It feels pretty good, obviously, making the playoffs," coach Claude Julien said in an on-ice interview with NESN immediately following the game. "We've had some challenges, especially at the end there with the injuries that we've had, but we've battled through it and we've managed to make it in there and that's pretty big for us."
Erik Cole and Patrick Dwyer had goals to rally Carolina, which finished out of the playoff picture one season after going to the Eastern Conference Finals. But Tuukka Rask denied the Hurricanes on several good chances to tie the score, finishing with 33 saves, and Milan Lucic put the puck into an empty net with a minute remaining to seal the win for the Bruins.
"It's a great feeling," forward Patrice Bergeron told NESN in an on-ice interview. "We've been waiting for this for 81 games. … It was in our destiny. We just had to go out there and have a big win, and we did that."
Hunwick was penalized with 18 seconds left in a scoreless first period. Considering that the Bruins had scored only three shorthanded goals all season, not giving anything up on the ensuing Hurricanes power play seemed like it should be the primary focus starting the second, but instead they went on the attack.
Daniel Paille opened the scoring with 32 seconds elapsed by scoring his first goal in 22 games. Paille skated down the right side on goalie Cam Ward, cut across the crease and, as his momentum carried him into the left circle, threw the puck on net where it snuck in between Ward's body and the left post.
Wheeler doubled the lead at 1:21 by breaking a 12-game goal drought. Ward cleared a puck from behind his net up the right-wing boards, where it was intercepted by David Krejci. He found Wheeler in between the circles for a one-timer that found its mark.
Begin promptly completed the shorthanded hat trick, following up just 15 seconds after Wheeler's goal with one of his own, as he kept the puck during a 2-on-1 break and beat Ward for a 3-0 lead. It was Begin's second goal in 37 games.
It was the first time Boston scored three shorthanded goals in the same game since a 6-4 win over Washington on March 27, 1994.
"It's one of those things which just sometimes happens," Rask said. "You get a goal, then the opponent is not ready and you get another one, and they're like, 'What's going on here?'
"I was like that, too, I didn't know. Maybe we should play shorthanded more often. Our penalty-killers have done a great job throughout the year, and today it showed in a big win."
The reeling Hurricanes called timeout after Begin's goal and eventually worked their way back into the game. Cole scored at with 5:30 left in the second, shortly after the Bruins had successfully killed off a penalty to Lucic, and Dwyer capitalized off a turnover and snapped a shot past Rask to make it 3-2 with 2:54 remaining in the period.
"We played pretty good. We had a really outstanding first half of the second period and then for some reason we started to make unnecessary mistakes and unnecessary plays and it led to Carolina coming back in the game," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said.
"They battled hard, but toward the end we held on and deserved to win."
Bergeron thought he had scored a power-play goal in the final minute of the second, knocking home a rebound, but the official behind the net had lost sight of the puck and thought Ward had it, causing him to blow his whistle just before Bergeron put it in the net.
Bergeron then saved the Bruins' bacon 2:55 into the third as the Hurricanes came within inches of tying the game on a fluke goal. Rask headed to the bench as a delayed penalty was indicated on Carolina forward Jerome Samson, and in passing the puck off the boards Boston sent it caroming into its own zone toward the empty net. A charging Bergeron got back just in time to sweep the puck from the goal line, and a video review confirmed it stayed out of the net.
"I've seen that before, on the 'Not Top 10' plays," Bergeron said. "I didn't want to be on there, so I just raced as soon as I saw the puck, it was going to go in, so as soon as I realized that I tried to go as fast as I can and was fortunate enough to get it."
Material from team broadcast media was used in this report.