A lot was on the line last night.
The Bruins were coming off an 8-2 dud against Montreal. They were fighting the Islanders for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They wanted to hit the All-Star break on an upswing, knowing that when they return from the weekend, they'll have three games in five nights - including two against conference leaders Ottawa and Detroit.
They passed the test.
"We outplayed them," said Tim Thomas. "We were the hungrier team tonight."
With the Montreal humiliation in the rearview mirror, the Bruins scored four straight goals in the first two periods, then cruised to a 4-1 victory over the usually battle-ready Islanders before 13,461 at TD Banknorth Garden, hopping over New York into seventh place.
"Maybe the guys were thinking about the break before it even started," said Islanders coach Ted Nolan. "We weren't ready to go at the beginning of the game. I think they got a couple of quick goals on us and we just didn't have enough to fight back."
At times, the Bruins looked like the quick-strike Canadiens of Tuesday night. Before the Islanders put a third-period puck past Thomas, the Bruins held a four-goal advantage - rare air for the defense-first club.
"Because we had a four-goal lead, we might have been soft in our execution," said coach Claude Julien. "But those things happen sometime when you're a team that's not used to playing with a big lead like that. We haven't had that opportunity that much this year. With a good cushion like that, it's a real challenge to stay focused."
Aside from some third-period sloppiness that caused some concern on the Boston bench, Julien's charges performed the little things that were nonexistent against the Canadiens. They made the Islanders pay for their penalties, scoring on 2 of 3 power plays. At the other end, the Bruins blanked the New York power play on its three opportunities. They chipped pucks out of their zone. They got consistent play from all six defensemen, allowing Julien to keep the ice time relatively low for workhorses Zdeno Chara (21:28) and Dennis Wideman (22:04).
But perhaps the biggest positive was how Boston converted seemingly every New York mistake into a goal.
In the first period, after Rick DiPietro couldn't squeeze his glove on a power-play blast by Chara, the Bruins regained control of the puck, giving Wideman a second look from the point. Wideman faked a slapper, prompting penalty killer Trent Hunter to hit the deck. With Hunter down, Wideman went around the forward and whistled a wrister that whizzed by DiPietro's glove at 9:28.
Later in the period, when Freddy Meyer pinched in the Boston zone, Milan Lucic tapped the puck off the boards, sidestepping the defenseman and starting a three-on-one rush that resulted in his fifth goal of the season.
At 9:39 of the second period, 11 seconds after serving a high-sticking penalty, Marc Savard took advantage of a DiPietro gaffe to make it 3-0. From deep in the right corner, Savard put a bad-angle shot on goal that DiPietro couldn't handle.
"Just a bad third goal," said DiPietro (26 saves). "Just a bad goal. I just don't think we played great, and it's a bit of a letdown that we didn't give ourselves the best chance to win. That's one we're going to have to live with for a couple days now."
The Bruins capped their scoring with a power-play goal at 17:20, just 14 seconds after defenseman Andy Sutton had to haul down Chuck Kobasew to prevent a close bid. From his preferred position along the left boards, Phil Kessel attacked the net and took advantage of a Lucic screen to beat DiPietro.
And when the Bruins started to run around - Aaron Ward called the affliction "dangleitis" - they turned to Thomas, as they often have this season. In the second period, while defending a 3-0 lead, Thomas kicked out good looks by top-liners Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin.
Then with his team up, 4-0, late in the second period, Thomas made his most spectacular save of the night. Defenseman Brendan Witt hammered a slapper that hit traffic in front, throwing off Thomas's timing. The netminder stopped Witt's shot, but the rebound skittered to the post for sniper Miroslav Satan, who had an open net. But Thomas, on his stomach, scooted toward the goal line - he thought he pulled himself backward with the toe of his skate - and stuffed Satan's attempt with his right pad.
"Just one of those things," said Thomas, who lost his shutout bid to forward Mike Sillinger in the third, "where nothing works by the textbook and you have to improvise."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.