BOSTON - A boost to his bank account and a stick to the head couldn't throw Tim Thomas off his game.
One day after signing a US$20-million, four-year contract extension and 5 1/2 minutes after being hit in the back of his helmet by Sean Avery, Thomas was mobbed by teammates celebrating the Boston Bruins' 1-0 win over the New York Rangers on Saturday.
The victory clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference for Boston for the first time since 2001-2002. And it may have been a preview of the first playoff round. The Rangers hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.
"Obviously, this stuff affects you to a certain point," Thomas said of the contract talks, "but I've been able to put it behind me and just concentrate on hockey."
He did that so well that the Bruins won their sixth straight game - five of them before he signed - and he got his fifth shutout of the season.
Blake Wheeler scored his 21st goal for Boston at 9:04 of the first period and nothing New York did could tie the game.
Then Avery hit Thomas as the goalie was stretching in front of his net during a television timeout with 5:24 left.
"I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the win," Thomas said. "If you can react and not have it affect your game, then he didn't do his job and it didn't work."
After that, he made a save on a slap shot by Derek Morris on a New York power play and finished with 31 saves.
Thomas did chase Avery to centre-ice as Avery kept skating with his back to the goalie. He pushed Avery then was hit from behind by New York's Frederik Sjostrom. Thomas turned and swung at Sjostrom before officials separated players.
Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stayed out of the action.
Thomas "looks like a pretty strong guy. When he goes after one of our guys, I looked at the bench for the OK," Lundqvist said. "I think he overreacted."
Avery was acquired on waivers by the Rangers on March 3 after being released by Dallas. While with the Stars, he was suspended by the NHL for crude public comments directed toward players dating his former girlfriends.
"I actually like the way he plays around the net. He's tenacious. He gets in right around the crease but he's not actually doing anything illegal," Thomas said, "but there's lines that you can cross and he seems to have a hard time figuring out what those lines are."
Both received two-minute penalties.
The Rangers have three games left and lead Florida, which was idle Saturday and has four games to play, by two points.
"It's a very, very important time right now," Lundqvist said. "We can't beat ourselves (up) very much right now. We're still in the eighth spot."
The victory gave the Bruins 112 points, 10 more than second-place Washington, which was idle. It also improved their record to 51-17-10, matching the fourth-most wins in team history, last achieved in 1992-93.
Thomas kept his shutout alive with an outstanding save midway through the second period. Ryan Callahan shot from about 15 feet, Thomas raised his right arm and the puck bounced off his body at 10:15.
About 8 1/2 minutes later, he made a good glove save on Wade Redden's shot from the right circle.
With 10:10 left in the game, Lauri Korpikoski's shot from the left circle clanged off the post to the right of Thomas. Just 21 seconds later, the Rangers went on a power play when David Krejci was called for holding, but managed just one shot. And Markus Naslund's shot hit a post with just over three minutes left.
Lundqvist also played an outstanding game, but Wheeler's goal was enough to beat New York, which fell to 1-3-1 in its past five games. Defenceman Dennis Wideman passed the puck from the right corner to Wheeler, who connected on a slap shot from 10 feet above the right circle.
"I feel pretty out of place up there, so I was just happy to get the puck off my stick," Wheeler said.
The puck went under Lundqvist's pads.
"I should have gone down and blocked the shot," he said. "I moved for it like the normal pad save. It just took a right turn."
Lundqvist kept the Bruins from extending the lead when he stopped Milan Lucic, skating in alone on him, at 6:52 of the third period.
Notes:Thomas' next win would be his 35th, the most by a Bruin since Byron Dafoe had 35 in 2001-02. ... Bruins right wing Phil Kessel missed his fifth straight game with an undisclosed injury. ... Four of the past eight games between the Rangers and Bruins ended with 1-0 scores. Two of them were shootout wins.