By Matthew Carroll
The Sports Xchange
BOSTON -- Dennis Seidenberg and Daniel Paille scored second-period goals, Tuukka Rask posted his second shutout in as many starts and the Boston Bruins remained in second place in the Eastern Conference with a 2-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.
Boston moved two points ahead of Montreal in the race for the Northeast Division crown and No. 2 seed in the East playoffs. The Canadiens played later Thursday against Winnipeg, and close the regular season Saturday at Toronto.
The Bruins, meanwhile, began a grueling stretch of three games in four days before the playoffs begin next week.
And the way they've been struggling, every point is imperative.
Boston had won just one of its previous six games entering Thursday, with three of the losses coming to teams already eliminated from the playoffs. The lone victory was Sunday against the Florida Panthers, who own the worst record in the league.
Montreal isn't playing any better, though, dropping six of its last eight games, including Tuesday when the Bruins squandered an opportunity to vault ahead of the Canadiens.
Despite being outshot 30-24 by the Lightning -- who had a handful of chances to slice the deficit in half late in the third period, including one shot that hit the right post -- the Bruins weren't about to let that chance slip away again.
Boston silenced the potent pairing of Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, who rank first and second in the league in total points, respectively. St. Louis leads the NHL with 42 assists and is fresh of his seventh career hat trick Wednesday against Toronto. Stamkos, meanwhile, sits second in the league with 29 goals, trailing only Washington's Alex Ovechkin (32), and had scored goals in three of his past four games.
Rask put a swift end to all of that, making 30 saves for his 16th career shutout, highlighted by a second-period glove save on Stamkos and another off a rocket by St. Louis with 4:33 to play.
Ever since Boston coach Claude Julien publicly criticized his play after yielding three goals in a loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday, Rask has been a virtual brick wall.
He has stopped 69 of the last 71 shots he's faced -- allowing two goals to Philadelphia after replacing Anton Khudobin in a loss to the Flyers on Tuesday -- almost single-handedly keeping the Bruins alive for the division title.
A slow, sloppy and sluggish game got interesting with six minutes to go in the first period when Boston's Andrew Ference and former Bruin Benoit Pouliot tangled along the boards, exchanging a flurry of punches much to the crowd's delight.
Boston promptly seized the post-fight momentum but came up empty on two chances when Tampa Bay goaltender Anders Lindback denied Shawn Thornton and Paille.
After getting outshot 9-4 in the first period, the Bruins struck 4:22 into the second when Seidenberg scored his third goal of the season. Brad Marchand carried the zone and dropped the puck to Seidenberg, who uncorked a slapper from just inside the blue line that sailed past the blocker of Lindback for a 1-0 lead.
After Rask robbed Stamkos with a stunning glove save to preserve the lead, Boston wasted no time capitalizing. Thornton kept the puck from exiting the zone and found a wide-open Gregory Campbell, who set up Paille for a one-timer that made it 2-0 with 6:29 left in the period.
NOTES: The game was rescheduled from Feb. 9 when a blizzard in the Boston area caused a postponement. ... Boston forward Nathan Horton (upper body) missed his third straight game. ... The Lightning are an offensive juggernaut this season, averaging 3.13 goals per game, which ranks third in the NHL. Entering Thursday, they have scored at least two goals in 18 of their past 19 games. ... Stamkos had netted seven goals in his past five games against Boston. ... Before the game, Boston defenseman Dougie Hamilton, the youngest player on the roster at 19 years old, was honored with the Seventh Player Award, voted on by fans and given to a Bruin who went above and beyond the call of duty and exceeded the expectations of fans.