With their playoff position in jeopardy, the Boston Bruins have responded with back-to-back victories over two of their pursuers in the Eastern Conference.
That should make their path to the postseason much more manageable, and the Bruins hope the momentum will carry over to their final 10 contests, starting Thursday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
The New York Rangers had closed within three points of eighth-place Boston (33-27-12) before the teams met Sunday, but the Bruins pulled out a 2-1 home win.
Atlanta got even closer and had a chance to leapfrog the Bruins on Tuesday, but Boston earned an emphatic 4-0 road victory over the Thrashers.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. We have to keep plugging,” coach Claude Julien said. “But it was a very important win for us.”
The Bruins may have a chance to climb even higher and avoid a first-round matchup with East-leading Washington. Montreal, Philadelphia and perhaps Ottawa are all within striking distance, and Boston holds at least one game in hand on all three.
The 23-year-old Rask has claimed starting duties from reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas(notes), going 8-3-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average since the beginning of February to help compensate for the league’s worst offense.
Since Savard’s injury, the Bruins have gone 1 for 21 (4.8 percent) on the power play, but young forwards David Krejci(notes) and Milan Lucic(notes) each had a goal and an assist at even strength against the Thrashers.
“There should be no looking back from here,” Lucic said. “These last 10 games, destiny is in our hands. We want to finish it.”
Locking up a playoff spot may require some better results at home, where the Bruins play their next three and six of their final 10. Sunday’s victory was just their second in the last 13 home games.
The Bruins still haven’t scored more than two goals in a game at home since a 4-0 win over Atlanta on Dec. 30, averaging 1.4 goals since.
The Lightning (29-32-12) nearly tied that game after trailing 5-0. They had won four straight at the time to rise to sixth place in the East, but the loss started a 3-11-1 stretch that has them eight points behind Boston and their playoff hopes all but gone.
Tampa Bay did that Tuesday, snapping a five-game losing streak when St. Louis scored his second goal of the game in overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 win over Carolina.
Antero Niittymaki(notes) made 27 saves. Rask’s Finnish countryman was pulled against the Bruins last month after allowing four goals in the first period, but he is 4-0-0 with a 1.35 GAA in four career appearances at Boston.