For the second time this season against Philadelphia, the puck landed on the stick of the defensive-minded Aaron Ward for a chance to turn 1 point into 2.
And for the second time, the man dubbed the "overtime specialist" by Andrew Ference came through to give the Bruins a victory.
Philadelphia goalie Martin Biron became the latest overtime victim of Ward, who busted a 2-2 deadlock with his strike at 2:17 to give the down-in-the-dumps Bruins a critical 3-2 victory before a sellout crowd of 17,565 yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden. In the teams' previous meeting, Ward gave the Bruins an overtime win by beating Antero Niittymaki.
"It's a big boost," Ward said of the team's second win in the last five games. "We know what we're looking at right now. We're playing some guys that are in the same boat as we are.
"We're lacking in personnel, obviously, with [Zdeno Chara] out. But we have guys who are fully capable in this locker room of putting forth that effort that can keep us in the running."
The seventh-place Bruins stretched their lead over No. 8 Philadelphia to 2 points in the Eastern Conference.
Ward's score, which occurred during a three-on-three situation (Marco Sturm and defenseman Braydon Coburn were sent off 27 seconds into overtime for roughing), came seconds after Tim Thomas turned aside a breakaway attempt by Jeff Carter.
"Massive save," said Ference.
Philadelphia wiped out a 1-0 Boston lead in the second period with two goals within a four-minute span. Then the Flyers, clinging to their 2-1 lead, collapsed in their zone in front of Bi ron, daring the punchless Bruins to attempt an equalizer.
For more than 19 minutes in the third period, that tying goal was elusive. Early in the third, Sturm jammed a close-range shot through Biron's pads that nearly rolled over the line before the netminder reached back and swept the puck away. Later in the period, Biron left a rebound in front after stopping a Vladimir Sobotka slapper, and Shawn Thornton had several whacks at the puck before the goalie froze the play at 13:57.
But with 26.4 seconds remaining in regulation, Ference gave his team the goal it needed.
Just over four minutes earlier, Ference had put the Bruins down a man by hauling down forward Daniel Briere, giving Philadelphia a power play that could have put the game out of reach. But the Bruins killed off the penalty, allowing coach Claude Julien to pull Thomas for an extra skater.
After the Bruins won several battles along the walls, keeping the Flyers from clearing their zone, Dennis Wideman settled the puck at the point and fired a heater on goal.
The puck deflected off traffic in front (Phil Kessel was one of the Bruins positioned for a tip or screen) and caromed to Ference at the left point. Ference, who hadn't scored all season, wound up for a slapper and whizzed it by Biron to make it 2-2 and send a kicked-in-the-gut Garden crowd into a frenzy.
"It's the law of averages," Ference said. "If you take a thousand shots, eventually one's going to go in. Wides did a good job of putting the puck through. I got the opportunity for a rebound and tried to shoot it as hard as I could."
Had the Bruins lost, it would have been another blow to their stretch run. The fragile Bruins entered yesterday in a 1-4-2 stumble, scoring only eight goals during the run. Had certain variables aligned (a Boston loss and a Buffalo victory), the Bruins would have been in eighth place today, just a point ahead of the heel-nipping Sabres.
Yesterday's game began in promising fashion for the Bruins, as Chuck Kobasew netted his 21st goal (a career high) by lifting a rebound of a Sturm shot over Biron at 12:21 of the first period.
But the Flyers responded in the second period by winning two one-on-one races. First, after Thomas stopped a wrister by forward Joffrey Lupul, forward Mike Richards beat Shane Hnidy to the rebound, whacking the puck out of the air and into the net at 9:14.
At 12:25, Briere raced past Kessel to the far post and tipped in a pass by Vaclav Prospal to make it 2-1.
So after Ference scored the equalizer, Thomas kept it a tie game in overtime, and Ward netted the winner, there was one common postgame emotion.
"Relief," Ward said. "It's one of those situations where we've been limited with our goal scoring. But that's the identity of this team - getting key contributions from everybody."