BOSTON - Aaron Ward scored his first NHL short-handed goal and the Boston Bruins connected on two quick breakaways to open a three-goal lead before holding on and beating the Ottawa Senators 5-3 on Thursday night.
Phil Kessel scored twice, one of them an empty-netter with 56 seconds left, and Tim Thomas stopped 25 shots to help the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins win for just the fifth time in 16 games. Boston, which had led by as many as 14 points in the conference, maintained a six-point lead over the second-place New Jersey Devils, who beat the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2.
Jason Spezza scored twice, and Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson each assisted on both for the Senators.
Alex Auld stopped 17 shots for Ottawa, which had won four consecutive games.
Boston has beaten Ottawa six straight times.
There was a flurry of penalties in the opening minutes, and it set the tone for the opening goal two minutes later.
Ward was called for hooking 70 seconds into the game, a penalty that was matched when Nick Foligno was sent off for tripping on the ensuing faceoff, just three seconds later. As Ward's penalty expired, Zdeno Chara blocked Heatley's shot and fed Patrice Bergeron, who found Ward to set up a point-blank, breakaway slap shot that made it 1-0.
It was the first short-handed goal for Ward in 750 NHL games.
Boston also took advantage of the man coming out of the box on its second goal, when P.J. Axelsson came off a roughing penalty and worked a perfect give-and-go with David Krejci to make it 2-0 just 6:52 into the game. Midway through the first period, Chuck Kobasew took a backdoor pass in front of the net and gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead.
Spezza cut the deficit to 3-1 just two minutes later when he slammed home the rebound after Heatley tried a wraparound stuff shot.
After a scoreless second period, Kessel roofed a slap shot 4:31 into the third period to extend Boston's lead to 4-1, but two minutes later Christoph Schubert made it 4-2 on an easy tip-in from Ryan Shannon. Spezza's second of the game cut the Senators' deficit to a single goal.
Notes: Krejci and Kessel sat out practice Wednesday, but both played their regular shifts on Thursday. ... The Bruins are 15-3-2 against the Northeast Division. ... Alfredsson extended his scoring streak to five games.