BOSTON (AP) — Tuukka Rask’s return provided the Boston Bruins with a much-needed boost of energy Tuesday night.
Rask made 24 saves following a one-game absence and the Bruins beat the Nashville Predators 4-1, improving their playoff chances in the process.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Noel Acciari and David Backes scored for the Bruins, who moved three points ahead of idle Tampa Bay for the second Eastern Conference wild card with six games remaining. Boston remained a point behind Toronto for third place in the Atlantic Division.
“That’s kind of how we want to play everywhere, particularly (at home), is establish the energy level, be on our toes, be ready to play,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said.
Rask was sidelined with a lower-body injury for Boston’s 2-1 road win against the New York Islanders on Saturday. He had dropped four straight starts, giving up five goals twice during that stretch.
“We kind of got on the winning habits there in Long Island,” Rask said. “Me stepping in there (tonight), I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win and guys did the rest. It was a great team effort today.”
Bergeron’s goal was his 18th of the season, and Krejci got his 22nd. Acciari scored his first career goal in 43 NHL games, Backes netted his 17th of the season and Zdeno Chara earned his 600th NHL point with an assist on Boston’s first goal.
Craig Smith scored his 10th goal for the Predators, who had their four-game winning streak snapped. Pekka Rinne made 27 saves but took his first loss in six starts.
“I feel like we can elevate our game and be better than that,” Rinne said. “It was a playoff atmosphere, but I think we can do a better job. I know we will, but now is the time to get ready for the postseason and get your mindset right.”
Nashville remained one point ahead of idle St. Louis for third in the Central Division.
The Predators had won three straight meetings with the Bruins, including a 2-1 victory Jan. 12 in Nashville.
Bergeron opened the scoring 2:28 into the first period, slamming home a rebound after Chara’s shot from the blue line bounced off Rinne’s leg.
Krejci’s wrister trickled through Rinne’s legs to double the Bruins’ lead at 13:52 of the first.
“We made mistakes early on that gave them a lead, and from there we were chasing the game,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said.
Smith redirected Roman Josi’s shot past Rask to cut the Nashville’s deficit in half with 8:44 remaining in the third.
Acciari tapped in a shot-pass from Riley Nash as the Bruins converted a 3-on-1 chance with 4:13 to play. Backes scored an empty-netter with 1:31 left to seal it.
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