The Boston Bruins could still claim the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they did their part to have a chance on Saturday.
Tim Thomas made 31 saves to help the Bruins to a 3-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. The win moves Boston within a point of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Should the Flyers and Penguins lose in regulation in their final games, the Bruins could claim the second spot with a win Sunday afternoon at New Jersey.
If Thomas does not play Sunday as expected, he will finish the season with a .938 save percentage and set an NHL record, eclipsing Dominik Hasek's standard of .937 set in 1998-99 with the Buffalo Sabres. Thomas, one of the top contenders for the Vezina Trophy, won his 35th game and also leads the League in goals against average at 2.00.
"That's great. Awesome," Thomas told reporters. "To be completely honest, I had a hard time getting it completely out of my mind the last couple of days. I think (save percentage) is the most reflective overall (of a goaltender's season), but certainly not a perfect number," Thomas said. "But overall it's still the most important number."
Added Boston coach Claude Julien: "He's had a good year for us. I think deep down it seemed to matter to him, so it was important to the rest of our team to help him do it and play as best we could."
Daniel Paille opened the scoring at 12:53 of the first period. Gregory Campbell collected the puck behind the Ottawa net and sent a spinning pass in front to Paille for his sixth goal of the season. Paille, who is fighting for a spot in the lineup amongst a deep forward corps, has three goals in the past four games.
Massachusetts native Bobby Butler leveled the score late in the period. Jason Spezza intercepted a Boston outlet pass near the top of the left faceoff circle and fed Butler in the high slot. His first shot was blocked, but the puck squirted toward the left side of the net and Butler was able to bang home the rebound when Thomas was bowled over by one his defensemen.
Butler, one of several young players the Senators hope to move forward with, finished the season with 10 goals in 35 games.
Nathan Horton put Boston in front for good early in the second period with the Bruins on the power play. Horton collected the rebound from a Zdeno Chara point shot, wheeled around and snapped a backhand shot past Ottawa goaltender Curtis McElhinney for his 26th goal of the season at 1:08. Horton also collected his seventh fight of the year in a spirited bout with Ottawa's Zack Smith later in the period.
"I think his whole attitude and approach to the game has really gotten better and better," Julien told reporters. "I have no doubt in my mind that he’s going to be fine because he’s playing with an attitude and that attitude has been with him for a while now."
Rich Peverley added a beautiful insurance tally at 14:52 of the third period. Peverley skated the puck from his own end along the right wall, slipping past an attempted check by Chris Phillips before cutting to the middle of the ice and backhanding a shot past McElhinney for his 17th marker.
The Bruins will play either Montreal or Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs. They are hoping to for a better fate this postseason after yielding a 3-0 series lead in a second-round defeat by Philadelphia last spring.