Shawn Thornton returned from a three-game layoff caused by a 40-stitch gash in his forehead and helped Boston's fourth line spark the Bruins to a 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.
Boston's feisty wing, sidelined after being cut by a skate, started the Bruins to their victory with his career-high 10th goal with just a tenth of a second left in the first period.
Then his linemates made their big plays — a goal by Gregory Campbell that made it 3-1 midway through the second period and a block by center Daniel Paille, who threw his body in front of the puck in the final minute.
"It felt good to get back in there," Thornton said. "Our line did a heck of a job."
The trio did better than the rest of the Bruins.
"We weren't very sharp," coach Claude Julien said. "Our best players certainly didn't make a difference."
Dennis Seidenberg and Campbell scored in a 78-second span in the second period and Boston closed within two points of the second playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins, who have clinched the Northeast Division title, have 101 points. The Philadelphia Flyers, the Atlantic Division leaders who were idle Wednesday, have 103. Both teams have two regular-season games left.
"I don't think we really start the season with a point total in mind," Campbell said. "It's just to win the division and do the best we can and to get the highest seed we can."
Boston is streaking at the right time with a 6-2-1 record in its last nine games before finishing at home against Ottawa on Saturday and at New Jersey on Sunday heading into the playoffs.
New York, already eliminated from playoff contention, lost for the fifth time in six games.
"There were a couple of bad bounces in the second period," Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro said, "but, overall, I thought we played well."
Michael Grabner scored both goals for New York, tying it at 1, then cutting the deficit to 3-2. He had 33 goals, two more than San Jose's Logan Couture for the rookie lead.
"It's nice to get two goals, but it would have been nicer if we got a win," Grabner said. "I just go out there and try to score goals. That's what I was drafted to do."
Thornton gave Boston a 1-0 lead after Campbell passed the puck from the right corner of the crease and he lifted it over DiPietro from the left side of the crease.
"I bet it was killing him missing those last three games, but he was healing," Paille said, "but to have him back and to get a goal that quick I'm sure he's excited."
The Islanders tied it just over a minute after Bruins goalie Tim Thomas stopped three shots from close range in a 5-second span.
"He's a tremendous goaltender," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said. "He's obviously the best in the league."
Grabner tied the game on a power play with 3:24 gone in the second.
But Boston soon took a 3-1 lead on those two goals just over a minute apart.
And they stayed ahead just two days after blowing a 3-2 lead to the New York Rangers, who scored three goals in the final four minutes.
"The consensus after the first period (Wednesday) was that we were just playing OK," Campbell said. "For us to come out and score a couple of goals and get on top and find ourselves in the same situation we were in Monday night and have another crack on that and to keep that lead that was good."
Seidenberg gave Boston a 2-1 lead with his seventh goal of the season, on a blast from the right point that went through a crowd in front of DiPietro at 7:51 of the second. Then Campbell scored his 13th at 9:09 when he came up with a loose puck just to DiPietro's left and stuffed it in the narrow gap between the goalie's left pad and the post.
"It's nice to see (Thornton and Campbell) get rewarded" with goals Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "They've been really solid for us throughout the whole season and the energy line is so important going into the playoffs."
Grabner cut it to 3-2 with a short-handed goal at 14:28. Josh Bailey passed the puck from his own left corner to Grabner near the red line. He collected it a couple of strides ahead of Tomas Kaberle and broke in alone to the right of Thomas. He then shifted to the goalie's left and scored his 33rd goal.
NOTES: The Islanders lead the NHL with 15 short-handed goals, an NHL-high seven by Frans Nielsen and six by Grabner. ... Campbell's goal was the Bruins first of the season in a 4-on-4 situation. Every other team has done that at least once. ... Boston's Mark Recchi played in his 1,651st game, tying Chris Chelios for fourth in NHL history. ... Kaberle played his 900th and Bruins forward Nathan Horton his 500th.
(This version CORRECTS Bruins 3, Islanders 2. Corrects to "goals" in 13th paragraph.)