Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) celebrates his goal with Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37). File photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
BOSTON -- If the Boston Bruins hang on and end their two-year absence from the playoffs, they can look at the season series with the Florida Panthers as the thing that got them back to the postseason fun.
The Bruins, keeping pace in their scramble for a playoff berth, completed a sweep of the five-game series with the Panthers with a 5-2 win on Saturday.
"We needed those points badly; we stuck with it," goaltender Tuukka Rask said after making 24 saves, 13 in the third period, as the Bruins won their fourth straight game -- the last three with Rask in net after he was called out by interim coach Bruce Cassidy after a shaky game on March 23.
The Bruins came into the game one point out of second place in the Atlantic Division and three points up in the wild-card race, with all the teams battling with Boston playing at night.
Anton Khudobin will be in goal for the Bruins in Chicago on Sunday and Boston finishes with three games at home. Two stats connected to that game -- the Bruins are 9-2 in matinees, but 3-8-2 on the back end of back-to-backs.
David Krejci, whose giveaway led to Florida's first goal, cashed in on an egregious giveaway by goaltender Reto Berra to snap a 2-2 tie with 5:30 left in the second period.
Rask made it stand up to beat the Panthers for the fifth time this season and raise his career record over them to 20-3-1.
"We bent certainly, but didn't break," said Cassidy, who is 16-7 since taking over for the fired Claude Julien. "Tuukka made some big stops."
Said Rask, who has stopped 75 of 78 shots during his three-game winning streak: "It's been a trend lately. We haven't played our best hockey for 60 minutes, but we've been able to grind things out."
Patrice Bergeron scored twice, the second into an empty net to get to 20 goals for the eighth time. Noah Acciari and Brad Marchand (career-high 39th) also scored and David Pastrnak had two assists for the Bruins.
Acciari, who has been dealing out some heavy hits, scored for the second straight game after going the first 43 games of his career without a goal.
Marchand scored on a late power play after his team had been outshot 13-3 in the third period.
The Bruins outscored the Panthers 18-7 in the five games. They have gone 18-2-1 in the last 21 and 24-4-1 in the last 29 games against Florida, and have won 11 of the last 12 games at TD Garden between the teams.
Berra, playing because both Roberto Luongo and James Reimer were hurt, came out to clear the puck away from a charging Pastrnak, banged it off the boards and right to Krejci, who slapped his 23rd goal into the net before Berra got back.
Boston's second goal, by Bergeron, was challenged by the Panthers because Marchand was in the crease, but the goal stood.
The Bruins improved to 32-0-2 when leading after two periods. The Panthers, playing their first game since being eliminated from contention and also without leading scorer Aleksander Barkov, fell to 1-24-5 when trailing after two periods.
Thomas Vanek and Jaromir Jagr scored for Florida. It was Vanek's 32nd goal and 66th point in 61 games against the Bruins and Jagr's 765th career goal.
Jagr, scoring his 16th goal of the season, has 36 goals and 103 points in 86 career games against Boston.
"I thought that the third period was really good, and we had spurts along the way in the first and the second but obviously the third was the best," Florida interim coach Tom Rowe said.
NOTES: Florida LW Shawn Thornton, who won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins, played his final game at TD Garden -- and was honored by being named the game's third star (he played only 8:05), leading him to come out and salute the fans with his hand on his heart. "Definitely a little emotional," Thornton, who is retiring after 14 NHL seasons, said of his day. "It didn't really sink in until (Patrice Bergeron) came over and said that he loved me." ... Panthers Reilly Smith (26) and Jussi Jokinen (34) had birthdays Saturday. ... Bruins RW Jimmy Hayes sustained a lower-body injury and Boston probably will call someone up from Providence for Sunday. ... Tuukka Rask's Thursday night shutout of Dallas was the first for the Bruins over the Minnesota/Dallas franchise since Gerry Cheevers did it Jan. 21, 1980. ... Florida D Keith Yandle, a Boston native, played in his 629th straight game. ... The Bruins have playoffs tickets on sale starting Monday.