Bruins backup Anton Khudobin not only gave No. 1 goalie Tuukka Rask a day off, he helped Boston take a big step toward the playoffs.
Khudobin made 41 saves to win his sixth consecutive start, and Boston held off the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 on Sunday for its season-high fifth straight victory.
Ryan Spooner, Patrice Bergeron and Kevan Miller scored for the Bruins, who jumped over idle Toronto and Ottawa into second place in the Atlantic Division. Boston began the day in wild-card position, four points ahead of Tampa Bay for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Khudobin, who wasn't beaten until the Blackhawks' 25th shot on a fluky play, was at his best in the first period and down the stretch when Chicago pressured to tie it.
“He's in there battling, working to find pucks, working to keep it out of the net, whether he has to use his head, his pads, his body, his legs, whatever it is,” said Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team played its final regular-season road game. “You can't say enough. I think the guys respond to that.”
Thanks to Khudobin, the Bruins never trailed in this one as Boston closed in on a return to the postseason after missing out the past two years. The Bruins' winning streak comes on the heels of a four-game slide that almost doomed them.
“It was important to establish momentum from the drop of the puck on,” Bergeron said. “I thought we were able to do that.”
“We stuck with it, and Anton made some really big saves as well. When we needed him, he was absolutely there.”
Chicago's Artemi Panarin extended his goal-scoring streak to four games with his 29th. Jordin Tootoo also scored for the Blackhawks, who got 26 saves from Corey Crawford in their final regular-season home game.
The Blackhawks clinched first place in the Central Division and Western Conference on Saturday when Minnesota lost at Nashville. Chicago is assured home-ice advantage through the first three playoff rounds.
"They scored early and you've got to claw your way back," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I don't think we gave up much today, but we were chasing the game."
Boston led 2-0 after the first period despite being outshot 16-11.
Spooner opened the scoring 6:34 in by deflecting Zdeno Chara's bouncing shot from the left point for his 12th goal.
The Blackhawks turned up the pressure later in the period, but Khudobin made a series of close-in saves - including dandies on Marian Hossa and Panarin - to keep Chicago off the board.
Bergeron fired in his 21st goal on a power play from beyond the top of the right circle to make it 2-0. He beat Crawford high to the stick side after taking a pass from Brad Marchand.
Panarin cut it to 2-1 with 1:48 left in the second on the Blackhawks' 25th shot to cap a quirky play that withstood a video review.
Chicago's Brent Seabrook fired from the right point, but the drive went wide and bounded of the back boards. At the same time, Blackhawks forward Richard Panik slid into the net behind Khudobin, who had ranged out for Seabrook's shot.
Panarin fired the loose puck from just left of the net, but the shot struck Panik - who was curled up in the net- and bounced out. Panarin then popped in the rebound before Khudobin could recover, with Panik still in the net.
Through a translator, Panarin said he didn't think the goal would be allowed. But it was - and Panik was awarded an assist on the play.
“It was one of the all-time great passes by Pans,” Quenneville quipped.
Miller extended Boston's lead to 3-1 at 9:15 of the third on a nice move and quick shot from the left circle that sailed past Crawford's glove.
Tootoo trimmed it to 3-2 just 25 seconds later when he was left alone in the crease and slid John Hayden's centering pass between Khudobin's pads.
UP NEXT: Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game homestand to close out the regular season.