Kessel, Ryder lead Bruins to 11th straight home win

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By Tony Lee

PA SportsTicker Contributing Writer

BOSTON (Ticker) -- Phil Kessel scores. The Boston Bruins win.

Such is life at TD Banknorth Garden these days.

Kessel extended his points streak to 15 games with a goal and an

assist and Michael Ryder scored twice as the Bruins posted their

11th consecutive home victory Saturday, a 4-2 triumph over the

Atlanta Thrashers.

The home winning streak is Boston's longest since it also

captured 11 in a row from December 5, 1982-January 29, 1983.

The Bruins' last loss on home ice came here on October 23 to the

Toronto Maple Leafs. They began their current run two nights

later with a 5-4 triumph over the Thrashers.

"It's great racking up wins and establishing a reputation for

being hard to beat at home," Boston coach Claude Julien said.

Defenseman Dennis Wideman also tallied and David Krejci

collected three assists for the Bruins, who swept the

home-and-home series by outscoring the Thrashers, 11-5.

Manny Fernandez made 20 saves in improving to 9-1-1 over his

last 11 starts for Boston, which raised its record to 16-2-1

over its last 19 contests.

Blue-liner Nathan Oystrick and former Bruin Marty Reasoner

scored for Atlanta, which fell to 2-9-2 following a five-game

winning streak in early November.

"Boston is an excellent hockey team, and we saw that yesterday

and even today," Thrashers coach John Anderson said. "There

were times where we could not get (the puck) out of our zone and

that type of thing. I don't know, we just have to (ask

ourselves), 'Are we good enough?'"

Kessel, whose has recorded 12 goals and 10 assists during his

run, has tallied in each his last six home games and registered

a point in eight straight at TD Banknorth Garden.

"We know he's on fire," Ryder said. "We just tell him to keep

doing what he's doing."

After notching a goal and an assist in a 7-3 rout of the

Thrashers on Friday, Kessel wasted little time keeping the

home-and-home set in the Bruins' favor, scoring a power-play

goal six minutes into this one.

With five seconds remaining on the game's first man advantage,

Krejci slid a cross-slot pass to Kessel, whose initial shot from

the bottom of the left faceoff circle was stopped by Johan

Hedberg. But the rebound came right back to Kessel, who buried

it for his 19th goal of the season.

"The key word has always been confidence, and he's got that now

and he's scoring goals," Julien said. "He's been hot with the

stick and definitely something we've been looking for for a long

time."

Perhaps as good a sign as any that Kessel has arrived is how

quickly captain Zdeno Chara came to his defense late in the

second period, when Atlanta defenseman Boris Valabik peppered

the 2006 fifth overall pick with a glove to the face after a

whistle.

The 6-9 Chara and 6-7 Valabik fought to a relative standstill,

but the significance of the moment was not lost on the Bruins.

"It's the No. 1 thing to be playing as a team and stick up for

each other," Chara said. "That's one of the main things on this

team - to stick up for each other."

Kessel laughed when told that Chara claimed the 21-year-old

could take Valabik himself.

"Yeah, right. He's a big guy there," said Kessel, who was

sporting a cut above his lip courtesy of Valabik. "I thank Z

for coming in there. A real team guy. Obviously, that guy

(Valabik) is pretty big."

Chara received 17 penalty minutes for his effort, an exchange

Julien said he would take any time.

"It was the right thing to do," Julien said. "It was for the

right reasons."

Ryder has done his best to match Kessel of late, scoring seven

goals in his last eight games. He gave Boston a 2-0 lead less

than eight minutes later with a soft backhander that slipped

between Hedberg's legs.

The 28-year-old Ryder, who posted back-to-back 30-goal seasons

before netting just 14 last season with Montreal, appears to be

on his game after a slow start to the campaign.

"The first part of the year, it takes getting used to the team

and playing with the guys," Ryder said. "It was just a matter

of me trying to find my game and get back to what I was doing

two years ago."

The Thrashers successfully killed a 5-on-3 later in the period

before halving the deficit as Oystrick fired a slap shot through

traffic and past Fernandez with 37 seconds left.

Kessel helped set up Wideman's power-play tally late in the

middle session. Ten seconds after Atlanta's Vyacheslav Kozlov

took an interference penalty with 1:54 remaining, Wideman

blasted a slap shot past Hedberg for his seventh goal of the

season and a 3-1 bulge.

Ryder beat Hedberg from in front with 4:12 to go in the third to

increase the lead and cap his second two-goal game of the

campaign.

Reasoner fired a wrister from the top of the slot past Fernandez

less than two minutes later to complete the scoring. It made

the final look a bit better, but Atlanta was a demoralized team

following the game.

"We're struggling big time right now," Thrashers defenseman

Niclas Havelid said, indicating that Boston may have taught his

team a lesson this weekend. "They play well and they stick

together, and they play a good, solid defensive game.

Hopefully, we can learn something from that."

Hedberg made 25 saves in falling to 0-3-0 against the Bruins

this season.

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