LOS ANGELES -- Balanced scoring, strong third periods -- such as this one against the Los Angeles Kings -- and the dependable goaltending of Tim Thomas have given the Boston Bruins reason enough to think they can successfully defend their Stanley Cup title.
Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly scored less than 1½ minutes apart early in the third period to break open a tie game, Patrice Bergeron scored a short-handed goal and Thomas made 40 saves, leading the Bruins to a 4-2 victory over the Kings on Saturday night.
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"We've matured as a team and we've been able to gain that killer instinct that's so key to success -- especially in the third period," Lucic said. "We look forward to the challenge of playing in the third period, and that's why we've had success. Timmy was huge. He made big saves at key times and kept it close for us. That's why he's an elite goaltender. We have a lot of trust and faith in him to step up."
The Bruins ended a four-game road-losing streak and also snapped a six-game winning streak by the Kings, who fell out of first place in the Pacific Division with Dallas' victory over Calgary. Colin Fraser and rookie Slava Voynov scored for Los Angeles and Jonathan Quick stopped 22 shots.
"We know the situation we're in. We're battling with a bunch of other teams here to make the postseason, or win our division," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "We're just preparing every game the same way -- like it's a must-win. It's never good to lose this time of year, that's for sure. But we saw last year in the playoffs, when Thomas is on his game, what he can do for that team."
The Northeast Division-leading Bruins are second in the Eastern Conference, 12 points behind the New York Rangers with eight games left on the schedule. The last defending Stanley Cup champion to lead its conference in points the following season was New Jersey, which captured the top seed in the East in 2000-01.
The Bruins, who have a 36-goal advantage over their opponents in the third period, broke a 1-1 tie when David Krejci carried the puck into the Kings' zone and left a drop pass for Lucic, who beat Quick between the pads with a wrist shot from the middle of the right circle at 4:37 of the period for his 24th goal.
"We've been approaching that third period the same way for so long, I can't give you the formula. We just go out and do it," Thomas said. "Maybe that's part of it. We're not overthinking it."
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Kelly added his 19th goal of the season at the 5:56 mark for a 3-1 lead. Brian Rolston carried the puck from his own zone into the Kings' end and passed to Benoit Pouliot, whose cross-ice feed to Kelly went in off his left skate. The officials let the goal stand after a brief replay viewing.
One more goal by Kelly would give the Bruins six players with 20 or more goals in the same season for the first time since 1995-96.
"That's what's necessary," Thomas said. "We don't have maybe the superstar snipers like some teams have, so we need that balanced scoring and a well-rounded attack to be successful. Last year in the Cup run, if you look at who was scoring some very important goals for us, it wasn't always the names that you'd think -- especially in the first series against Montreal."
Voynov cut it to 3-2 at 14:46 of the third with his seventh goal, but Brad Marchand scored into an empty net in the final second.
"Obviously, we knew the meaning of this game, and it was really a tough game," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who played in his 1,000th regular-season game. "Both teams played really hard -- a lot of battles, a lot of physicality -- and both goalies made big saves. I thought we played desperate hockey for the whole game. We were blocking shots, did a decent job killing penalties and scored some big goals."
The Kings had allowed only one short-handed goal all season until Bergeron opened the scoring at 5:18 of the second period, while Rolston was off for holding Dustin Brown. Los Angeles defenseman Drew Doughty turned the puck over to Marchand and Quick made a toe save on Marchand's 15-foot backhander, but was out of position when Bergeron slammed the rebound into a wide-open net for his 20th goal.
Los Angeles had 15 shots on net in the first period, but didn't get another one until the 11:26 mark of the second, when Thomas turned aside Brown's 35-foot slap shot. But Fraser tied it less than 2 minutes later with his second goal of the season, getting a cross-ice pass from Doughty in the slot and beating Thomas to the stick side with a 25-foot wrist shot.
"We had a lot of opportunities, but you have to finish the job when you have them against a team like that," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "They've got the goaltender that was the most valuable player in the league last year at the most important time. And he was tonight, too."
The Kings are 52-116-5 with 23 ties against teams who were defending a Stanley Cup title -- including a 3-0 loss at Boston on Dec. 13, when Tuukka Rask made 41 saves against Los Angeles in the Kings' first game after the firing of coach Terry Murray. ... Boston is 34-0-0 when holding a two-goal lead at any point of the game. ... The Bruins haven't shut out the Kings in Los Angeles since Jan. 3, 1976, when Dave Reece beat them 3-0 for the second and last shutout of his 14-game NHL career. ... Boston's only power play came after Justin Williams was sent off for roughing at 17:32 of the first period. The Bruins have had fewer than three power-play opportunities in nine of their last 10 games. ... Williams played in his 700th regular-season game.
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Arena: STAPLES Center Location: Los Angeles, California
Referees: Rob Martell, Brad Watson Linesmen: Brad Lazarowich, Mark Wheler