The Boston Bruins admitted it — they're looking ahead to the playoffs.
And with the way goalie Tuukka Rask has played lately, the Bruins want to start the postseason as soon as possible.
Rask stopped 30 shots for Boston in a 2-0 win over Tampa Bay on Thursday night, shutting down the NHL's top two scorers and keeping Boston in control of the tight race for the Northeast Division title.
It was the second shutout in as many starts for Rask, who seems comfortable and confident just when Boston needs it most.
"At the end of the day, a goaltender plays a big role in your success. In a game like tonight, if we don't have good goaltending and we get a breakdown the puck will be in the back of your net," Boston coach Claude Julien said. "You need a guy to stand tall and be good, and you need a guy that goes into the playoffs with confidence and hopefully that's what Tuukka's creating here."
It hasn't even been a week since Julien was openly critical of Rask after the Bruins 3-2' loss to the Penguins in Boston on Saturday. The Penguins scored a pair of power-play goals over four minutes in the third period to break open what had been a 1-1 tie.
Rask was just as critical, saying he had cost the Bruins the game. He was back in the net Sunday and made 28 saves in a 3-0 win over Florida, although few of the Panthers' shots appeared to be much of a challenge.
The Lightning were a much greater threat as Martin St. Louis entered the game leading the NHL with 58 points and teammate Steven Stamkos in a tie for second with 56.
Both had great scoring chances that Rask grabbed out of the air with his glove.
"You just kind of throw yourself out there," Rask said. "For me, I get a better feeling when I'm just square and the puck hits me and I don't give up rebounds. It's pretty easy to get carried away when you make highlight saves, so you just try to stay calm after you make a save like that."
Rask remained calm throughout and was the main reason Boston won the game despite being outshot by the Lightning 30-24.
"You think he doesn't have it and his glove's right there," said Daniel Paille, whose goal late in the second period gave Boston a 2-0 lead that held through the third. "He read a lot of plays tonight and he talked all night. That was good to see."
The Bruins and Canadiens are tied with 61 points, but Boston has two games remaining while Montreal has only one. The Canadiens finish their season at Toronto on Saturday. Boston plays at Washington on Saturday and finishes at home against Ottawa in the regular-season finale on Sunday.
Dennis Seidenberg also scored for the Bruins, breaking a scoreless tie early in the second period for his third goal of the season. Paille added a goal toward the end of the period and that was more than enough for Rask.
St. Louis had a chance to pull Tampa Bay within 2-1 with 4:33 left in the third with a sharp wrist shot that Rask stretched to grab with his glove. Rask caught a break a couple of minutes later when Tom Pyatt nearly beat him with a shot that clanged off the post and bounced back in front through Rask's pads.
The puck could easily have rebounded right back into the net and given the Lightning a chance to tie in the closing minutes, but Rask's luck held and he picked up his fifth shutout of the season.
"When a goalie starts getting confidence, good things can happen — especially in this league. I feel for our guys," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "I think, truthfully, we may have made less mistakes than the Bruins but we couldn't bury our chances."
Anders Lindback had 22 saves for the Lightning.
The Bruins were sluggish early and were outshot 9-4 in the first period, but Rask kept the Lightning out of the net, then Seidenberg scored 4:22 into the second period. Brad Marchand carried the puck up the ice, skated across the Lightning zone and fed Seidenberg for a slap shot from the point that Lindback couldn't see through the traffic.
Paille put Boston up 2-0 on a one-timer off a circle-to-circle pass from Gregory Campbell that left Lindback helplessly lunging to get from one post to the other as Paille scored his 10th goal of the season.
Long since eliminated from playoff contention, the Lightning appeared determined not to leave Boston without getting in a few shots before the end of the season. Former Bruins forward Benoit Pouliot took on Boston defenseman Andrew Ference in an extended bout with six minutes remaining in the first period.
Next up were Boston's Milan Lucic and Keith Aulie, who matched punches until Lucic landed three straight shots that sent Aulie slumping to the ice late in the second.
NOTES: The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 9, but postponed because of the blizzard that shut down the Northeast and left more than 2 feet of snow in some areas. ... Tampa Bay's only penalties in the first two periods were the fighting majors to Pouliot and Aulie. ... The Bruins swept the three games against the Lightning in the lockout-shortened season.