Michael Ryder scored on a penalty shot with 7:29 left in the third period Saturday afternoon and the Boston Bruins defeated the Atlanta Thrashers 3-2 to clinch the Northeast Division title for the second straight season.
Tuukka Rask made 28 saves as the Bruins won for the fifth time in seven games. Atlanta was eliminated from playoff contention with the loss.
"It's what a lot of teams battle for," Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters. "I'm just glad that's out of the way. We've got to keep winning games and see where we end up."
Ryder knocked the puck down when Atlanta defenseman Zach Bogosian tried to flip it past him near center ice and broke in alone on goaltender Ondrej Pavelec but was pulled down from behind and awarded the penalty shot. He drifted to his left but snapped a shot back into the top right corner of the net for his 18th goal of the season.
"I knew if I could score, it would get the team going," Ryder told reporters. "We have a few games left, and we're hoping we can move up even further."
Mark Recchi gave Boston the lead 4:34 into the first period. Patrice Bergeron centered the puck from below the Atlanta goal line, and it went off Bogosian's skate and Pavelec before coming right to Recchi at the edge of the crease for an easy tap-in.
Dustin Byfuglien tied the contest at 11:11 of the opening period. Bogosian sent Byfuglien a pass across the top of the offensive zone with the Thrashers on the power play and he blasted a one-timer that hit Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and popped in the air. Rask tried to corral it but it hit off his back and into the net.
It was Byfuglien's 20th goal of the season. He leads all defensemen in goals this season and is the ninth rearguard in the League since the 1999-2000 season to reach 20 goals (Sheldon Souray did so twice).
Evander Kane put Atlanta in front early in the second period. He created a turnover behind the Boston net and eventually collected a pass from Nik Antropov for a one-timer and his 19th goal of the season at 1:37.
Daniel Paille brought Boston level at 6:18. Atlanta was on a power play, but Paille deflected Bogosian's pass near the left circle in the Thrashers zone and he was able to collect it and snap a shot past Pavelec on the shortside for a shorthanded tally.
The Thrashers were in first place in the Southeast Division at one point in late December, but losing 17 of 21 games at one point in January and February proved too tough to overcome.
"We've been playing better here of late, but you can't take that much time off like we did," Atlanta forward Bryan Little said. "I felt like we had a good start of the season. Other teams made up the ground."