BOSTON - With one week to go in the regular season, the Boston Bruins are playing like they deserve a berth in the playoffs.
"It's step up or go home," goalie Tim Thomas said after shutting out the Ottawa Senators 4-0 Saturday. "Fortunately, we seem to be stepping up."
Thomas stopped 34 shots for his third shutout of the season, and David Krejci had a goal and two assists to help the Bruins briefly move into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia beat the New York Islanders later Saturday night, giving the Flyers 91 points - one more than the Bruins.
The Washington Capitals were in ninth, three points behind the Flyers. Both teams play Saturday night, but nothing that happens this weekend could knock Boston out of the top eight.
"We're going in the right direction, but so many things can change so quickly with so few games left," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I don't know what it's going to take, but we have to keep going here until we clinch a spot."
Martin Gerber stopped 27 shots for Ottawa, which won 13 of its first 14 games this season but just 13 of its last 36.
"Thank goodness we had the great start, to be competitive now," Senators coach Bryan Murray said. "We're just not playing at that level now and other teams are playing at a better level than they were early on."
Fifth-place Ottawa, which has won once in its last five games, could still earn home ice in the first round - or miss the playoffs entirely.
"It's a possibility," forward Daniel Alfredsson said. "We know we could lose all three and Washington wins out and we could be out. And then we don't deserve to be in the playoffs, it's as simple as that."
Alfredsson acknowledged that the Senators hadn't been playing well for a while. The last three games will be "kind of a test for us to see what character we have as we head into the playoffs," he said.
Krejci assisted on the Bruins' second and third goals, then added one of his own with 55 seconds left in the game when he got the puck in front of the net and put it past Gerber. Krejci has two goals and five assists in his last three games.
"That's what we need from him," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "He doesn't panic with the puck."
P.J. Axelsson and Marco Sturm scored 3 1/2 minutes apart in the second period, and Shane Hnidy made it 3-0 on a short-handed slapshot 73 seconds into the third.
The goals were celebrated on the video screen by about a half-dozen U.S. Marines at Camp Taqaddum in Iraq, watching from just west of Fallujah thanks to a video conference set up by the Freedom Calls Foundation. Between the first and second periods, former Bruin Cam Neely answered their questions.
The Bruins took the lead with 4:24 gone in the second when Glen Metropolit dug the puck out of the corner and fed it to Axelsson, who one-timed it over Gerber's glove. Sturm made it 2-0 after Krejci swiped at a rebound and the puck squirted across the crease. Sturm backhanded it into the empty net even as defenceman Anton Volchenkov dove head-first into the net to try to stop it.
Notes: The game was delayed for a few minutes in the first period to replace one of the plexiglass boards behind the Senators' goal. ... Bruins forward Jeremy Reich left the game with a head injury and did not return after taking a shoulder to the head from Chris Neil in the first period. Julien said he will make the trip to Buffalo and will be a game-time decision Sunday night. The Bruins called up Jeff Hoggan on an emergency basis to make the trip to Buffalo in case Reich can't play. ... Ottawa's Jesse Winchester, who signed as a free agent out of Colgate, played his first NHL game. ... The Bruins signed defenceman Jeff Penner.