Thomas blanks Rangers, Bruins clinch East

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BOSTON (AP) -- A boost to his bank account and a stick to the

head couldn't throw Tim Thomas off his game.

One day after signing a four-year, $20 million contract

extension and five minutes after being hit in the back of his

helmet by Sean Avery, Thomas was mobbed by teammates celebrating

the Boston Bruins' 1-0 win over the New York Rangers on

Saturday.

The victory clinched the best record in the Eastern Conference

for Boston for the first time since 2001-2002. And it may have

been a preview of the first playoff round. The Rangers hold the

eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

"Obviously, this stuff affects you to a certain point," Thomas

said of the contract talks, "but I've been able to put it behind

me and just concentrate on hockey."

He did that so well that the Bruins won their sixth straight

game - five of them before he signed - and he got his fifth

shutout of the season.

Blake Wheeler scored his 21st goal for Boston at 9:04 of the

first period and nothing New York did could tie the game.

Then Avery hit Thomas as the goalie was stretching in front of

his net during a television timeout with 5:24 left.

"I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the

win," Thomas said. "If you can react and not have it affect

your game, then he didn't do his job and it didn't work."

After that, he made a save on a slap shot by Derek Morris on a

New York power play and finished with 31 saves.

Thomas did chase Avery to center ice as Avery kept skating with

his back to the goalie. He pushed Avery, then was hit from

behind by New York's Fredrik Sjostrom. Thomas turned and swung

at Sjostrom before officials separated players.

Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist stayed out of the action.

"(Thomas) looks like a pretty strong guy. When he goes after

one of our guys, I looked at the bench for the OK," Lundqvist

said. "I think he overreacted."

Avery was acquired on waivers by the Rangers on March 3 after

being released by Dallas. While with the Stars, he was

suspended by the NHL for crude public comments directed toward

players dating his former girlfriends.

"I actually like the way he plays around the net. He's

tenacious. He gets in right around the crease, but he's not

actually doing anything illegal," Thomas said, "but there's

lines that you can cross, and he seems to have a hard time

figuring out what those lines are."

Both received two-minute penalties.

The Rangers have three games left and lead Florida, which was

idle Saturday and has four games to play, by two points.

"It's a very, very important time right now," Lundqvist said.

"We can't beat ourselves (up) very much right now. We're still

in the eighth spot."

The victory gave the Bruins 112 points, 10 more than

second-place Washington, which was idle. It also improved their

record to 51-17-10, matching the fourth-most wins in team

history, last achieved in 1992-93.

Thomas kept his shutout alive with an outstanding save midway

through the second period. Ryan Callahan shot from about 15

feet, Thomas raised his right arm and the puck bounced off his

body at 10:15.

About eight minutes later, he made a good glove save on Wade

Redden's shot from the right circle.

With 10:10 left in the game, Lauri Korpikoski's shot from the

left circle clanged off the post to the right of Thomas. Just

21 seconds later, the Rangers went on a power play when David

Krejci was called for holding but managed just one shot. And

Markus Naslund's shot hit a post with just over three minutes

left.

Lundqvist also played an outstanding game, but Wheeler's goal

was enough to beat New York, which fell to 1-3-1 in its past

five games. Defenseman Dennis Wideman passed the puck from the

right corner to Wheeler, who connected on a slap shot from 10

feet above the right circle.

"I feel pretty out of place up there, so I was just happy to get

the puck off my stick," Wheeler said.

The puck went under Lundqvist's pads.

"I should have gone down and blocked the shot," he said. "I

moved for it like the normal pad save. It just took a right

turn."

Lundqvist kept the Bruins from extending the lead when he

stopped Milan Lucic, skating in alone on him, at 6:52 of the

third period.

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