BOSTON -- To call Tuesday night's game against the Nashville Predators a must-win for the Bruins would have been a stretch.
But to call it a must-win for goaltender Tuukka Rask is another matter entirely.
Rask, criticized by his coach after his last start, bounced back after a one-game absence with a strong 24-save performance to lead Boston to a 4-1 victory that ended the Predators' four-game winning streak -- and allowed the Bruins to take another step toward ending their two-year playoff absence.
"I thought he was terrific," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy, who was critical of Rask after a 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday night. "Very pleased with his performance."
Backup Anton Khudobin created a bit of a goaltending controversy by winning Saturday night in Brooklyn but Cassidy made it clear Rask, who missed Saturday's game with a lower body injury, would play Tuesday if physically able.
He had lost four straight starts.
Word came late Tuesday that goalie Zane McIntyre was recalled from Providence on an emergency basis, sparking speculation he was there for Rask. But he was there for Khudobin, who was sick.
"(Khudobin) was a little under the weather, so we had the doctors visit around mid-afternoon," said Cassidy. "We brought Zane in. Nothing to do with Tuukka -- he was fine, ready to go. I know there was some speculation of what might have been going on, but there was nothing nefarious there. It's just (Khudobin) a little under the weather."
Both dressed and McIntyre was returned to the minors during the game.
Rask had a shutout until Craig Smith deflected home Roman Josi's shot with 8:44 left. Rask then stood tall and Riley Nash set up Noel Acciari for his first NHL goal to finish off a 3-on-1 with 4:13 remaining before David Backes scored an empty net goal with 1:31 left to put it away.
"We kind of got on the winning habits there in Long Island," Rask said. "Me stepping in there, I just wanted to make sure that I gave us a chance to win and guys did the rest. It was a great team effort today."
The Bruins remained a point behind the winning Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division. They also moved three points ahead of the idle Tampa Bay Lightning and four ahead of the New York Islanders (idle) and Carolina Hurricanes (winners Tuesday) in the wild card race.
Boston was playing the opener of a three-game homestand and will play six of the last seven at home.
The Predators, playing the second game of a back-to-back, lost for the second time in nine games and remained a point ahead of the St. Louis Blues in the Central Division -- the Blues with a game in hand.
"All of these teams, including us, are battling for playoff position, and we need to continue to go in the right direction," said Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis. "Tonight didn't happen for us, but we'll regroup and come back on Thursday and be better."
Patrice Bergeron, with his first goal in 10 games, and David Krejci scored first-period goals before Acciari scored his first goal in 43 NHL games. Krejci left practice early on Monday with an upper body injury but was able to play.
The Bergeron goal was the Bruins' first 5-on-5 goal from their top two lines in almost four complete games.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara notched his 600th NHL point on the first goal, while Nash set up Acciari's goal for his fifth point in three games -- after two in his previous 20.
Acciari, finally scoring in his 43rd NHL game, earned himself a shaving cream facial from teammate David Pastrnak as he did a television interview after the game.
Pekka Rinne made 27 stops and Smith ended a 25-game goal-scoring drought for the Preds.
"I feel like we can elevate our game and be better than that," Rinne said. "It was a playoff atmosphere, but I think we can do a better job. I know we will, but now is the time to get ready for the postseason and get your mindset right."
-- The Bruins observed a moment of silence for former player and assistant coach Gary Doak, who passed away this week.
-- G Malcolm Subban a Bruins minor leaguer, was in the press box watching his brother, D P.K. Subban, make his first return to TD Garden since leaving the Montreal Canadiens. P.K. Subban was hardly welcomed by the Boston crowd, getting booed lustily every time he touched the puck.
-- The Bruins continue a three-game homestand when the Dallas Stars visit Thursday.