BOSTON - The Boston Bruins heated up in a hurry for the outdoor Winter Classic.
Byron Bitz began a three-goal surge in the first 17 minutes and the Bruins beat the Atlanta Thrashers 4-0 on Wednesday, gaining momentum for the game Friday at Fenway Park against the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Everyone was on board right from the beginning, really focused," captain Zdeno Chara said. "Everybody was going every shift out there with a purpose."
The Bruins avoided any distractions from the NHL's much-hyped annual New Year's Day game by focusing on correcting their recent problems. Despite winning three of their previous four games, the Bruins hadn't played a solid game from start to finish recently.
So for coach Claude Julien, playing an outstanding game wasn't any more important because it's the last one before the Winter Classic.
"Our whole focus was about that we needed to find our game for the sake of finding our game," he said.
The Bruins extended their winning streak over the Thrashers to nine games and beat them for the second time in eight days, handing them their sixth straight loss. They drove goalie Ondrej Pavelec from the game in the first period both times.
Pavelec was lifted 10:52 into the first game after allowing three goals in a 1:08 span in Boston's 6-4 win. On Wednesday, he lasted 16:50 and left after Steve Begin's first goal in 30 games and third of the season made it 3-0 on the Bruins' 10th shot.
Johan Hedberg took over both times and played very well Wednesday when he stopped 12 shots before Patrice Bergeron scored his 11th goal of the season at 14:56 of the second period, making it 4-0.
"I can't see too many positives," Hedberg said. "The only thing you can take from it is you have to feel like it's a wakeup call for us as a team and we have to realize it's not fun. We've been in this situation the three years I've been here in Atlanta. We have good stretches and we have terrible stretches and all of a sudden the terrible stretch is too long and you're out of the playoff picture."
Bergeron, the Bruins' leading scorer with 30 points, was selected to the Canadian Olympic team Wednesday.
"It's been the best (game) in a long time," he said. "Everyone stuck with the system and it paid off."
Tuukka Rask got his second shutout of the season and blanked the team that was tied for second in goals per game with 3.2. But he faced just 18 shots, the fewest allowed by the Bruins this season.
"Less than 20 shots, no breakaways, no 3-on-2s," he said. "I saw pretty much every shot."
Rask is 10-3-2 as the backup to Tim Thomas, who is expected to start Friday afternoon at Fenway, although the forecast calls for morning rain that may taper off as the game approaches.
"I don't know if the ice would hold up with that," Boston's Michael Ryder said, "but I'm sure they've got something figured out."
Thomas could be selected to the U.S. Olympic team when it's announced after the outdoor game.
In the previous two Winter Classics, Pittsburgh beat Buffalo 2-1 in a shootout at Ralph Wilson Stadium in 2008 and Detroit beat Chicago at Wrigley Field in 2009.
The Bruins ran the risk of looking ahead to the 2010 contest.
"We were hoping that would happen, but the reality is they played very well," Atlanta coach John Anderson said. "The first five or six minutes it was really tight and they had that goal that went in off a deflection and we're a very fragile team right now."
On Wednesday, Bitz began the scoring with his fourth goal of the season when he redirected Shawn Thornton's shot from the left boards past Pavelec.
Marco Sturm scored for the third straight game six minutes later after Marc Savard's hard shot from the right faceoff circle hit the post with Chara and Sturm in front of the crease and Sturm poked it in.
"Hopefully, I'm going to continue that outside, too," said Sturm, who leads the Bruins with 13 goals.
Begin scored from the slot when a shot by Derek Morris from the right point hit his left thigh and was redirected past Pavelec. After a video review, the goal was allowed.
NOTES: Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk had his scoring streak stopped at 10 games, matching his career high. ... Four of Atlanta's losses during its streak were by one goal. ... The Bruins are 3-0 against the Thrashers this season with one meeting left.