BOSTON - The Boston Bruins' lead in the Eastern Conference was fading but coach Claude Julien didn't talk to them about the importance of beating the team threatening to take it away.
Or about how a win Sunday over the surging New Jersey Devils would give the Bruins the Northeast Division title.
"Lately we've been wasting a lot of energy just thinking about getting the win and forgetting how to get the win," Julien said after Boston's 4-1 victory. "If you play well enough, the outcome would take care of itself."
His players proved him right with some very timely outstanding play - and some help from their opponents.
Michael Ryder and Milan Lucic scored on deflections off Devils players past Martin Brodeur, and the Bruins (102 points) built a five-point lead over New Jersey with nine games left. The Devils have 10 remaining.
"We made a couple of mistakes," said Brodeur, 9-2 since returning from biceps surgery. "We paid the price, even though they were some lucky goals on the power play they got, it was still opportunities that we gave up that usually we don't do."
Boston locked up a playoff berth Saturday night when Florida lost to Columbus then clinched its first divisional title since 2003-04.
"It wasn't even mentioned once," Julien said. "We didn't talk about it. I didn't hear any players talk about it."
The Bruins were coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to Los Angeles on Thursday night in which they wasted a two-goal lead in the third period. Now they're 7-9-4 in their last 20 games after going 39-8-6.
"We're not making proclamations that it's all corrected," Aaron Ward said, "but it's a step in the right direction, especially timing-wise. With all this time off, it's something to build on."
The Bruins have five days off before playing Toronto next Saturday. The Devils visit Philadelphia on Monday night and are 9-3 in their last 12 games.
"We get the chance to get right back at it, so that's a good thing," New Jersey coach Brent Sutter said. "But we do have to play better on the road, especially our specialty teams."
The Bruins got another fluke goal when Marc Savard scored on a power play on a rebound off New Jersey's Travis Zajac, who had stopped Matt Hunwick's shot from the left point. And Chuck Kobasew beat Brodeur between the post and the goalie's left skate as Kobasew stood behind the goal-line.
"It's about time," Ward said of the deflections. "We've had a few of those go against us."
Andy Greene scored for New Jersey midway through the second period, cutting the lead to 3-1. But the Bruins held the lead three days after squandering a two-goal lead.
Challenged by Julien to work harder after Thursday night's loss, the Bruins responded. They even scored on their first two power plays after Julien said they were "totally flat" when they had the man advantage against the Kings.
"We really wanted this game," Savard said. "The biggest game of the year for us, the way we've been going, and we certainly proved we can do it."
On Boston's first power play Sunday, Ryder scored his 25th goal of the season. Mark Recchi centred the puck from the right side, where it touched Ryder and continued to the other side of the slot where it hit the skate of the Devils' Paul Martin and went past Brodeur.
The Bruins made it 2-0 just 1:52 into the second when Patrice Bergeron passed the puck from the lower left corner to Kobasew, who scored his 18th goal.
Savard, Boston's leading scorer, then got his second goal in four games after going 15 games without one when he scored on a power play at 6:19 of the period.
"We made four mistakes that they capitalized on," Sutter said. "It's a big game, but we move forward."
Tim Thomas, the NHL leader in goals against average, gave up Greene's second goal of the season at 12:44 of the second period. Greene kept skating to the net after passing from the left point across the ice to Jamie Langenbrunner, who returned the puck into the slot. Greene redirected it past Thomas.
But the Bruins regained the lead less than five minutes later on Lucic's 14th goal and first in 16 games. He skated in on the left side and put the puck in front of the net where several Devils and no Bruins were camped.
It hit the stick of defenceman Mike Mottau and ricocheted past Brodeur.
Notes: Zach Parise got a point in his eighth straight game when he assisted on Greene's goal. ... The Bruins are 22-0-0 when they lead by three goals. ... Recchi got his first two assists for Boston since being acquired from Tampa Bay on March 4.