NEWARK — The Bruins found a couple of shortcuts to the top of the Northeast Division Wednesday night, scoring twice while shorthanded in the first period, carrying a 4-0 lead into the first intermission, then doing just enough to hang on and pin a 5-4 loss on the Devils and get out of the Rock with a No. 2 seed in hand as the playoffs approach.
“We won a big game,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien, his squad slipping ahead of Montreal by one point in the Eastern Conference standings. “That’s a desperate [Devils] team. But there were a couple of things that took the fun away from the victory.’’
■ Brad Marchand, who connected for two goals Monday vs the Hurricanes, exited for the night in the second period with what appeared to be a concussion. He was drilled and felled by an Anton Volchenkov elbow along the sideboards, and needed help to be propped to his feet and make his way to the dressing room.
Julien did not offer a diagnosis, saying only, “We’ll let our docs give us the word.’’ If concussed (joining Patrice Bergeron), Marchand will be off skates for a minimum one week, per league protocol.
■ The two shorties, one by Danny Paille and the other by Greg Campbell, were an outgrowth of repeated penalty woes for the Bruins. The Devils enjoyed no fewer than eight power plays, although perfect 8-for-8 Boston penalty killing, along with the shorties, negated the enjoyment. In all, the Bruins played 12:28, more than 20 percent of the game, shorthanded. That’s rarely a shortcut to success.
■ The Boston offense, in part because of the penalites, cobbled together only 18 shots. It was only the second time this season they haven’t managed 20. The Devils finished with a 28-18 shot advantage and the Bruins now have been outshot in a season-high four straight games, 139-107 total.
■ The Bruins’ high-profile wingers, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, attempted but five shots and landed only three on net. The line of Lucic-David Krejci-Horton finished a combined minus-6 eyesore. Lucic now has gone eight straight games without a goal and has put but one puck in the net since scoring Feb. 24 (total 24 games). When he’s on, he’s a unique commodity. For the last six weeks, he has ranged from uniquely mediocre to infuriatingly bad. Horton has often been in lockstep, Krejci left to work with Do Nothing on one side, Nothing Doing on the other.
All that said, the win was the Bruins’ fifth in their last six outings.
With only nine games left in the regular season, they could lock up a playoff berth with a point Thursday night against the Islanders.
They have not played well for a couple of weeks, but they have played well enough to win, in part because of fine goaltending efforts such as the one turned in here by Anton Khudobin, who made 24 saves and improved to 9-3-0.
“I’ll take it,’’ said Khudobin, aware that it was a disjointed night overall. “It doesn’t matter. A win is a win. I could play better, definitely, but . . . [New Jersey] is a good team, and they are battling for a playoff spot.’’
For the second time in as many games, the Bruins ran up a 3-0 lead in the first period, but this time it included a pair of shorthanded goals.
Campbell started it only 1:10 into the night, potting a rebound from the top of the crease after some impressive puck control in the slot by new arrival Jaromir Jagr (two assists on the night).
With 3:58 gone in the period, defenseman Johnny Boychuk raced out of the penalty box and took off for a breakaway, only to be hacked and hauled down by defenseman Marek Zidlicky to give the Boston blue liner a penalty shot. On the attempt, Boychuk cut across low in the slot and attempted a wrister at the right post. But the ever-agile Martin Brodeur, 40, dropped into a two-pad stack and turned it away.
The first of the shorthanders came at 4:51. Rich Peverley triggered a breakout from the Boston end, picking off a Steve Sullivan pass for a two-on-one with Paille. The speedy Paille was initially stoned by Brodeur on a close-in backhander, but recovered on the doorstep to pop in a forehander for a 2-0 lead.
“Thought I had him with the first shot,’’ said Paille. “But he’s still quick . . . luckily I stayed with the puck.’’
Next, with 8:12 gone, Campbell connected for the other shorty, deflecting in a wrister that Andrew Ference fired from the blue line — only 1:10 after Horton was whistled off for holding.
The Bruins, with only one power-play goal in the previous 12 games, boosted their lead to 4-0 at 3:06 of the second when Zdeno Chara, parked at the top of the crease, provided the final tap to a puck that Jagr centered for Krejci on the doorstep. Bruins, 4-0.
The rest of the second-period scoring belonged to the Devils, and along the way the Bruins lost Marchand.
Not long after Patrik Elias put the Devils on the board at 11:07, Marchand was felled by Volchenkov, who was tossed with a game misconduct.
With 1:48 left in the second, it was New Jersey’s turn to go short, with Travis Zajac canning the shorthander unassisted. Boston’s lead, once four goals, was down to 4-2 at the second intermission. Andy Greene cut it to 4-3 early in the third but Tyler Seguin’s 13th of the season bumped it to 5-3 with 12:27 to go. Matt D’Agostini made it 5-4 with Brodeur pulled and 37 seconds to go, but the Devils could not manage the equalizer.