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For two teams that finished last season tied in the standings, it would be hard to imagine a bigger gap than the one that currently stands between the Boston Bruins and Ottawa Senators.
The NHL-leading Bruins will have twice as many points as the last-place Senators when the teams meet in Ottawa on Thursday, as Boston looks to extend both its winning streak and the Senators' losing streak to four.
Ottawa and Boston earned the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference last spring, when they finished tied for second in the Northeast Division with 94 points.
But while the Senators' 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh in the first round of the postseason was a sign of things to come, the Bruins (38-8-6) have built off their 4-3 defeat to top-seeded Montreal in the opening round, taking control of the top spot in the East with a dominant run this season.
Their 82 points are twice as many as Ottawa's 41, although the Senators have three games in hand. The disparity has showed up in the head-to-head series, with Boston winning the first two games this season to run its winning streak against the Senators to four.
The Bruins are 33-5-3 since Nov. 1 and 5-0-1 in their last six games overall. Lately, they've been using defense to win, allowing just two total goals during their three-game winning streak.
Tim Thomas made 25 saves in Wednesday's 3-1 win at Philadelphia, improving his NHL-best save percentage to .934.
"Timmy was great in the net, and our D and forwards are doing a great job getting back and keeping teams to the outside," defenseman Dennis Wideman said. "That's something that we stress a lot. If a team is going to take a shot, make sure that they are taking it from the outside."
David Krejci scored the game-winner in the third period and added an assist for Boston, ending a three-game drought without a point for the emerging 22-year-old. Krejci hadn't gone three straight games without a point since mid-November, but he still has 16 goals and 30 assists in 34 games since then.
Playing on the road hasn't slowed the Bruins, as they've now won 10 of their last 11 away from home. The win over the Flyers also capped a stretch of five straight games against the five clubs in closest pursuit of Boston in the East, a stretch coach Claude Julien's team finished at 4-0-1.
"There's a reason they're the best team in the league," Philadelphia coach John Stevens said. "They have a very committed team, they don't take a lot of chances and they have gifted offensive players committed to the checking game."
The Senators (17-25-7) present less of a challenge, with the club still getting used to new coach Cory Clouston after Craig Hartsburg was fired Sunday.
Clouston coached his first game on Tuesday, and he didn't immediately solve Ottawa's offensive woes. The Senators were shut out for the second time in three games in a 1-0 home loss to Los Angeles.
"(Clouston) did a good job behind the bench getting us fired up," forward Jason Spezza said. "It's unfortunate we didn't score a goal. It's going to be a learning process for us here for the next couple of weeks."
Ottawa ranks last in the league with 2.35 goals per game. While nine Bruins forwards have at least 20 points, the Senators have just three at that level in top-liners Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, all of whom are well below last season's pace.
"We've got to do a better job of getting rebounds and getting goals. That's what's missing," Alfredsson said.
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