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Victory assures Bruins of playoff berth

by Brian Hunter

In his last five starts against the Senators, Tim Thomas has a 0.39 GAA, including Friday night's 2-1 win, which gave the Bruins a spot in the postseason.
WATCH: Thomas and the Bruins step up their game against Ottawa 
The Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators both clinched postseason berths Friday night, but the result of their game against each other indicated two teams heading in opposite directions as the Stanley Cup Playoffs draw near.

Tim Thomas made 17 saves and came within 8:14 of his third straight shutout against the Senators as the Bruins held on for a 2-1 win at Scotiabank Place to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2003-04 season. They also won their fourth in six games heading into Saturday’s season finale at home against Buffalo.

“This is big. This is what we’ve been working for all year long,” Thomas said. “It’s what all of us worked all last summer for and it’s great to finally get paid off.”

The Bruins have 94 points and could still finish as high as fifth or as low as eighth depending on their result against the Sabres and what the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers do in their final regular-season games on Sunday.

“Obviously we’ve got a game to play tomorrow that still has meaning in the standings, and we have to be prepared for that,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “I don’t think we’re by any means satisfied. We’re very confident with our team and we’re looking forward to a great playoff run.”

Carolina’s 4-3 loss to Florida clinched a playoff berth for Ottawa, which concluded its regular season by losing for the 27th time in 45 games. The Senators began the season with a 15-2 run but came perilously close to finishing out of the top eight, something they haven’t done since the 1995-96 season.

They played without captain Daniel Alfredsson and center Mike Fisher, both of whom were injured in a game Thursday against Toronto. The team announced earlier Friday that both players would be sidelined “for weeks.” Ottawa can finish no higher than sixth and will begin the playoffs on the road.

“Months ago, we said if we could get to 93, 94 points, we’d be in. I just told the players, getting 94 points is not backing in,” Ottawa general manager and coach Bryan Murray said before giving kudos to Florida coach Jacques Martin, who led the Senators to their first playoff appearance 11 years ago.

“In spite of all the stuff that’s been said and the way we’ve played lately, we got 94 points and we deserve to be in,” he said. “Jacques Martin did a heck of a job for us tonight.”

Boston captain Zdeno Chara, a former star defenseman for Ottawa, gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead 6:39 into the second period. Chara, who scored 16 goals in each of his final two seasons with the Senators, rifled a slap shot from the top of the left circle past Martin Gerber for his career-high 17th.

“We knew what was at stake and we approached it that way,” Chara said. “We just played every shift very, very hard, and it was a great team effort.”

Phil Kessel made it 2-0 with what turned out to be the game-winner at 4:21 of the third. Peter Schaefer, another ex-Senator, intercepted the puck in Ottawa’s end and set up Kessel’s 19th goal.

Antoine Vermette, coming off his first career three-goal game against the Maple Leafs, cut the deficit in half at 11:46 with his 24th of the season. That ended a streak of 180 minutes, 10 seconds in which Thomas had blanked the Senators.

“He’s got our number, there’s no doubt about it,” Vermette said. “He’s been playing pretty good against us so it’s good to get one, at least.”

For now, the Senators are looking for the positives wherever they can find them. Dany Heatley is looking at the playoffs as a fresh start, regardless of how the team arrived there.

“It’s a good feeling, there’s been some ups and downs this year, but we’re in, it’s a new season,” Heatley said.

Material from wire services and team broadcast and online media was used in this report.

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