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Bruins 3, Senators 1

Bruins finish home schedule in style

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas makes a save while Ottawa’s Bobby Butler awaits the rebound during the second period. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas makes a save while Ottawa’s Bobby Butler awaits the rebound during the second period. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / April 10, 2011

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The Bruins now know who they’ll face in Round 1 of the playoffs — the Canadiens, pegged to start at the Garden on Thursday — but they will wrap up the regular season this afternoon in New Jersey secure in the belief that their game is shaped and framed for the postseason.

To that end, captain Zdeno Chara and the aged Mark Recchi (now No. 4 on the NHL’s list for games) will watch the game at the Rock from their La-Z-Boys back here in the Hub. Both veteran warriors were granted the day off, an extra 24 hours of R&R, in large part because of the potential of playing yet another 28 games if the Bruins are to win their first Stanley Cup since 1972.

Yesterday afternoon, on the strength of goals by Daniel Paille, Nathan Horton (PPG), and Rich Peverley (first goal on Causeway Street), the Bruins slapped a 3-1 loss on the Ottawa Senators to close their Garden schedule before a full house of 17,565.

Tim Thomas, with win No. 35 on the season, turned back 31 shots and boosted his save percentage to .9382 — the best mark in the NHL since the league began keeping track of such data in 1982-83. With Tuukka Rask today’s scheduled starter, the Tank figures to trump the Dominator (Dominik Hasek) for the game’s all-time best save percentage. Hasek posted a .9366 with the 1998-99 Sabres.

“That’s great, awesome,’’ said Thomas, perhaps the leading candidate to be awarded the Vezina Trophy as this season’s best goaltender, which would be his second in three seasons. “But there is still one more game and as a team we have to focus on that game and take care of business.’’

Fan Appreciation Day ended, per usual, with each Bruin peeling his sweater off and handing it to an adoring member of the crowd. The next time they mingle so intimately and cheerily with vox populi, the hope is that the crowd is thousands deep and cheek to jowl around City Hall, where the likes of Chief, Johnny Pie, and the Cheese stood high on the same bricked terrace four decades ago, positive that the legendary Big Bad Bruins would swashbuckle on for decades and decades.

There is no telling how far this lot of Black-and-Gold stick carriers will go. The best of the lot again yesterday was the No. 4 line, which had plucky Gregory Campbell centering Paille and Shawn Thornton. The line combined for one goal and three assists, and it was Paille’s goal that established a 1-0 lead midway through the first and set the tone of hard work for the afternoon.

“A beautiful goal,’’ said coach Claude Julien, praising the trio’s tic-tac-toe approach that had Thornton shooting, Campbell collecting the rebound, and Paille smacking home his pivot’s tape-to-tape feed with an easy forehand tap. “All coaches love to see that kind of goal. Those guys are working hard and scoring quality goals.’’

The Senators came back to tie late in the first period with Bobby Butler canning their only goal, potting one at even strength after defenseman Shane Hnidy (game No. 2 of the season) made a horrendous turnover directly onto the stick of Jason Spezza. But with only 68 seconds gone in the second, Horton notched his 26th, knocking home an easy backhander on a power-play strike initiated by Chara’s heavy blast from the right point.

“An easy goal like that,’’ noted Horton, “can give us some confidence on the power play, help get us going.’’ They had gone five games without a goal on the man-advantage.

Horton’s real eye-catching moment came later in the period, at 9:24, when he and Zack Smith pounded away ferociously at each other, Ali-Frazier style, in front of the Boston bench. One of the best bouts of the season, albeit at the risk of the Bruins losing one of their most significant offensive performers. Other than a few stitches to hem up his gashed left eyebrow, Horton came out of it unscathed.

Peverley, who had yet to score a goal in the Hub since his acquisition in late February, polished off his 17th of the season with a nifty move through the slot and backhand sweep at the doorstep at 14:52 of the third. The home season was in the books at 22-13-6, the stage set for the Canadiens to visit on Thursday.

It’s that time of year again, the playoffs, when the 82-game prelude gets forgotten faster than a middle-schooler’s first crush. Let the games begin and . . . maybe the good times roll the way they haven’t in a very long time.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com.

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