BOSTON - This win gave the Boston Bruins 50. The next one will give them something they value even more: home ice through the Eastern Conference playoffs.
"You can play for one team your whole career and never get 50 wins - and still have some real good seasons," goalie Tim Thomas said Thursday night after stopping 31 shots to beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1.
"It's a credit to the team, the way it's built and the way the guys play together.
"But if you're running the Boston Marathon and you're leading after 20 miles, you don't stop to say, 'Man, I'm leading."'
Milan Lucic and Marc Savard scored for Boston, which would clinch the best record in the East with its next victory or the Washington Capitals' next loss.
The Bruins were one point behind West-leading San Jose for the best overall record, pending the Sharks' game against Edmonton later Thursday.
"I don't think anyone thought we would've been in this position this quickly," Boston coach Claude Julien said, "but we'll take it."
The Bruins hit 50 wins for the eighth time in franchise history and the first since the 1992-93 season; they reached 110 points for the first time since '82-83. And it's just two years since they missed the playoffs entirely.
"The position we were in two years ago - we've come a long way," said forward P.J. Axelsson, whose steal set up the game-winning goal. "But it's still a long way to go."
But Savard was ready to celebrate - a little.
"We had a tough stretch and now we're heading in the right direction again," he said. "I think it'll be more enjoyable tomorrow when we go to the rink for practice; smiles will be on the boys.
"It's a great accomplishment for us. Fifty wins, I wouldn't have predicted it right away and I don't think any of you did either. I think it's a special feat."
Daniel Alfredsson scored for Ottawa, and Alex Auld made 31 saves.
The Bruins killed off a 6-on-4 in the final 1:55 when Mark Recchi was called for high-sticking and the Senators pulled the goalie for an extra man.
Ottawa had a flurry of shots down the stretch before an interference penalty against them evened things up with 2.7 seconds left.
"We were one shot away and it's disappointing but the guys' effort was definitely there," Senators coach Cory Clouston said. "They make you pay. They're a very good team.
"A couple of little turnovers like that and they make you pay."
Alfredsson gave the Senators the lead when he took a pass from Jason Spezza and put it over Thomas' right shoulder just 5:23 into the game. Lucic tied it with his slap shot 2:27 into the second.
Boston broke the tie in the third when Axelsson stole Brendan Bell's clearing attempt and backhanded it over to the slot for Savard, who put a wrist shot past Auld with 16:58 to play.
Savard has two goals and four assists in his last five games.
Notes: David Krejci, a 22-year-old forward who has 22 goals and 50 assists, was named the winner of the Bruins' Seventh Player award for going above and beyond the call of duty and exceed the expectations of Bruins fans. He got a pickup truck. ... The Bruins signed F Yannick Riendeau to an entry-level contract. ... Bruins F Patrice Bergeron played his 300th game. ... Boston was held without a power play goal for the first time in five games.