All they had to do was be shorthanded.
It's not a recipe for success they'll likely try to repeat, but the Bruins' penalty kill proved the difference as Boston ended a four-game road losing streak with a key 4-2 victory over the Kings in Los Angeles on Saturday.
The Bruins opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal by Patrice Bergeron and kept the Kings scoreless on four power-play attempts to maintain their three-point advantage in the Northeast Division over Ottawa after the Senators beat Pittsburgh 8-4 earlier in the evening.
Buffalo also won, beating Minnesota 3-1 to stay just five points back of Boston. The Bruins do have two games in hand on both the Senators and Sabres, but they still needed Saturday's win to keep some breathing room atop the division.
The penalty kill helped see to that, turning the momentum of the game around when Brad Marchand stole the puck from Kings defenseman Drew Doughty and broke in alone. Jonathan Quick made the initial save on Marchand, but couldn't stop Bergeron's follow-up as the Bruins grabbed a 1-0 lead 5:18 into the second period.
"They did a great job," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We really limited the damage on the penalty kill. We scored a shorthanded goal, we pressured them and took away a lot of their time. And when they did have a little bit of time, you could see they're a dangerous team, but our penalty kill was good tonight. The last three games we've been a lot better because we've gotten more aggressive."
The Bruins are 7-for-7 on the penalty kill in the last three games. While much of that has to do with the more aggressive work of the penalty killers up front, a lot of the credit also has to go to the most important penalty killer on the ice. That's the guy between the pipes, and Tim Thomas has been outstanding of late after some shaky play the last couple months.
"We found a way to score a couple goals and right at the end Timmy came up big for us and made the big saves that we needed," Julien said. "We got ourselves a well-earned two points on the road."
Thomas finished with 41 saves, his most in a game since making 47 in a 5-2 win over Ottawa back on Dec. 14. After going 2-5-0 with a 4.26 GAA and an .830 save percentage in his first eight appearances after Tuukka Rask was injured, Thomas has found his old Vezina form again in the last four games. He's 3-1-0 with a 1.48 GAA and a .946 save percentage in that stretch.
And at no time in this recent run was he better than in the closing minutes of Saturday's win, when the Kings pulled Quick for the extra attacker and threw everything they had at Thomas trying to pull even.
"You saw that little flurry in front of our net at the end there, and guys diving in front, making blocks," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "And Timmy's been great, especially the last two games keeping us in it. Those are the things we've learned how to do in the past and we've dealt with it in the past and we were able to deal with it here tonight."
Thomas rekindled memories of his jaw-dropping stops in last year's Stanley Cup run when he somehow flashed out a pad to block Jeff Carter's redirection of a Doughty shot with 14 seconds to play, and Marchand put the exclamation point on the victory in the final second with an empty-net goal.
"That was frantic, it always is," Thomas said of the Kings' surge in the final minutes. "But I was in a pretty good mindset where I was trying not to get too frantic myself and pull myself out of the net. That was basically what I was focusing on."
With Thomas back focused and playing like his old self, the Bruins can now look to securing their division title and locking up home ice for as long as possible in what they hope will be another extended postseason run.
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