If the Boston Bruins are going to make the playoffs, they've got to win some games that no one expects them to take.
That was the case Friday night as Joe Thornton capped a three-goal first period by setting up two scores in 52 seconds and the Bruins ended a 10-game winless streak against the New Jersey Devils with a 4-1 victory.
Boston opened a four-point lead over Florida and the New York Rangers in the five-team race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"Every game is so big right now," goaltender Byron Dafoe said after the Bruins extended their record to 5-1-1 in the last seven games. "We've got the Rangers next (Sunday). It's just getting bigger and bigger. "
"To win in New Jersey, these were two points a lot of teams probably thought we weren't going to get," added Dafoe, who came within 2:08 of a shutout. "For us to get them is huge."
Not only do the Bruins play the Rangers at home on Sunday, Florida comes in on Tuesday and then Boston plays on the road against the Rangers on Friday.
"We need to put some space between the ninth- and 10th-place teams," said defenseman Kyle McLaren, who ignited the big first period at 2:39. "We've got to keep the ball rolling. These next games are big. If we aren't ready for them, we are in for a rude awakening."
Defenseman Grant Ledyard and Sergei Samsonov were the beneficiaries of Thornton's assists as the Bruins beat New Jersey for the first time since Oct. 29, 1996. The Devils were 7-0-3 in that span.
"They cam out pretty good on us," said Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. "They got some lucky breaks. I guess we just weren't ready and they came out playing pretty good, simple. They just shot the puck on net."
Dafoe had a relatively easy night, stopping 24 shots. He lost what would have been his seventh shutout on a power-play goal by Jason Arnott.
"We played with emotion," Boston coach Pat Burns said. "They were frustrated. That was the most frustrated that I have ever seen a New Jersey Devils team play. Sometimes when you get your own medicine back and don't get out of the game what you want, it turns that way."
McLaren put Boston ahead for good with a shot from the right point that Brodeur didn't see.
Thornton, the No. 1 pick in the 1997 entry draft, helped put the game out of reach with two great assists.
He got a loose puck in the corner and skated in on Brodeur, only to be stopped in close. The rebound went out toward the point and Ledyard shot it through traffic for his third goal of the season, his first since Nov. 19.
| Scott Niedermayer tries to stop Boston's Sergei Samsonov. (AP)|
Samsonov scored his 21st on a two-on-none breakaway that was set up when Landon Wilson poked the puck into the neutral zone. Thornton retrieved it in center ice and eventually slid it to Samsonov for a shot into an almost wide-open net at 16:04.
"He is coming into his own," Burns said. "He knows what the NHL is about. He knows what it is like to go into the corner and get put on the seat of your pants. Kids have to learn that. We can't expect them to know that. He was just 18 years old last year."
Arnott's goal came on a shot from the slot. It was his 19th of the season, his seventh in 10 games.
Anson Carter scored into an empty net with 38 seconds to play.
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