Boston, MA – The Boston Bruins kept their playoff push alive, notching their sixth straight win in Saturday afternoon's 3-2 shootout victory at the TDBanknorth Garden against the Atlanta Thrashers. Phil Kessel scored yet another shootout-deciding goal and Tim Thomas blanked the Thrashers in the penalty shot contest to earn the B's a win and two important points in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
In the locker room before the game, however, the B’s were trying not to think about the standings at all.
"You don’t want to be overly optimistic by saying we’re X-number of points out of first,” said head coach Claude Julien Saturday morning. “We’ve had success with short-term goals, and that’s what we’ve stuck with, short-term goals. We’re a better-focused team doing it that way."
The short-term goal in the first seemed to be getting as many shots off as possible, as the Black & Gold gave Atlanta goalie Johan Hedberg some work early on in his first game back since February 15.
Even with his team on the power play, Atlanta's Hedberg kept working, catching and stopping the puck as the Bruins penalty killers sent it down the ice time and again while Vladimir Sobotka sat in the box for a hooking penalty, called at 3:18.
But with the team back at full strength, the red-hot Black & Gold went up 1-0 at 6:06 with a goal from Glen Murray, much to the delight of the sellout crowd.
Thrashers sniper Ilya Kovalchuck, however, obviously didn’t like that the scoreboard read that way and he took advantage of a penalty shot at 6:41 to tie the game at one.
“[It] was one of the weirdest penalty shots I’ve ever had,” said Thomas. “When the ref blew the whistle, I thought it was a TV timeout, and all of a sudden, he’s coming down on me. It was kind of odd, [and] it kind of caught me off-guard.”
Alexei Zhitnik put the Black & Gold on a power play with a hooking penalty at 10:01, and while the B's kept trying, Hedberg stood strong in net, and the score remained tied at the 20-minute mark.
A scrum around the Atlanta net just about two minutes into the second period resulted in a few shots for Boston, but nothing made it through Hedberg.
Kovalchuck’s tripping penalty at 6:53 gave the Bruins the man advantage once more, but despite some solid attempts, including a shot by Chuck Kobasew that went just outside the Atlanta post, the score stayed at one-all.
Thomas aided in keeping the Thrashers at a single goal with a spectacular stop at 9:04 as Aaron Ward went to the box for slashing.
A scary situation presented itself when Atlanta gained a five-on-three advantage with a high-sticking penalty to Dennis Wideman at 12:26 while Ward was still in the box. Just before Ward’s penalty ended, another scrum around the Boston net had Thomas fighting to keep the puck out of the net and Zdeno Chara shoving Atlanta’s Robert Holik and Mark Recchi away from the B's goal, with help from Andrew Ference.
Boston went on a power play once more when Garnet Exelby was called for tripping at 14:32 and then found themselves in a five-on-three when Holik joined his teammate in the box for hooking at 15:07.
A breakaway by Murray during a line change at 17:08 had the crowd on edge, but the attempt was blocked by Thrasher Ken Klee. A breakaway shot by Jim Slater 10 seconds later, however, found its way past Thomas and put Atlanta up 2-1 with 20 minutes left to play.
Boston would start the third period on a power play, as a minute and a half of one was left over from when Colby Armstrong found himself called for hooking at 19:28 in the second.
A hit from Milan Lucic to Colby Armstrong 1:56 in sent the Atlanta right-winger to the ice, igniting the crowd.
Boston was leading in shots 27-17 with about 12 minutes left -- still, they still trailed by one. Time was dwindling, but the B’s faced the pressure head-on, and with 8:07 left, David Krejci batted in a feed from Kessel and notched his third goal in as many games to tie the game at two.
“Luch won the battle and gave it to Kess. He made a nice move behind the net then tried to jam it in,” explained Krejci. “It didn’t work out exactly as he wanted it, so the puck came back door.
“On the bench, Coach told us to go back door, so that is what I tried to do. There were so many sticks; I just tried to somehow put it in.”
The game wasn’t over yet, however, and with the Bruins down a man on a hooking penalty to Murray at 15:03, Thomas made a spectacular glove save to keep the team’s hopes alive. He followed it up with another one with just 2:55 to go, grabbing the puck right out of the air.
Assured that at least one point would be added to their total, Boston headed full-force into overtime.
With just 42 seconds left in OT, Thomas's good intentions at batting the puck out of his team's end nearly came back to bite him, as Kovalchuck stole the puck, and Thomas had to scramble to get back in net. He made an incredible body save, earning loud approval from the crowd and with what is known affectionately as the "Timmaaaay" blaring over the PA.
“[I was thinking] stop the thing. There’s no way I’m going to let him score,” Thomas said. “I got a little greedy; I tried to hit Muzz for maybe a breakaway…and he did a good job of picking it off.”
Of the three Bruins in the shootout, Phil Kessel, the second to go, was the only one to capitalize, tossing the puck in from the left side of the net.
“He’s got the confidence and a little bit of luck, both combined together make him a great shootout candidate,” said Coach Julien. “When you see a guy come in with that kind of speed and that kind of skill, the goaltenders are kind of wondering what he’s going to do.”
Kessel knew he had a little bit of luck this time.
“[Hedberg] came out far, then backed in fast,” he explained. “I was fortunate to score on that. I lost control a little bit, so I just tried to poke it.”
Marco Sturm and Krejci's shots were both saved by Hedberg.
“I was coming from the left side to the right. I tried to put it five-hole,” Krejci said. “[Hedberg] saw that I couldn’t handle the puck flat, and he came right out. I didn’t get a chance to do anything.”
Once again, Thomas helped the Black & Gold come out on top, stopping all three Atlanta shooters.
The game was a battle the whole way, so to come out on top felt good to the team.
“Tonight was one of the nights where you have to work for every inch and every break,” said Coach Julien. “Bottom line, we just had to stick with it, persevere, and find a win. That’s what we did in the third.
“Obviously, it got us back in the game and we settled it in the shootout.”
1 - 0 BOS
1 - 1 Tie
2 - 1 ATL