NEWARK, N.J. - Matt Hunwick had gotten caught up ice. Dennis Wideman was backtracking. And the Devils were flying on a two-on-one, seemingly poised to crack a 0-0 deadlock late in the second period.
Jamie Langenbrunner, the puck carrier on the right wing, blasted a slap shot that thudded off Tim Thomas. The rebound skidded to the stick of Patrik Elias, who was staring at a gaping net.
Or so it seemed.
Thomas, having recovered from Langenbrunner's shot, pushed off his left skate, dove to the right, and stuck the blade of his stick in front of Elias's shot to make perhaps his finest save of the season.
In the dressing room after the game, Shawn Thornton called to Thomas, "Tank, that save in the second? Best one of the year."
Thornton, who was sitting in the penalty box at the time, saw the play develop and figured the Devils were moments away from scoring.
But after Thomas robbed Elias, Thornton heard a thud next to him. Michael Rupp, sitting in the New Jersey box (the two had gone toe-to-toe at 10:16 of the second), had banged his head into the glass in frustration.
It was the sexiest play of a 2-0 Bruins win before 16,305 at the Prudential Center that was about as aesthetically pleasing as Bobby Holik's unibrow.
Earlier this month, the Bruins had kicked around some tomato cans - dregs of the Southeast Division - with go-go offense. But last night, in standard operating procedure featuring the defense-first Devils, it was a return of ugly, grinding, pre-lockout hockey, which has a unique beauty of its own.
The Bruins responded by turning in one of their tightest and most efficient victories of the season, proving they can play muck-and-grind hockey, too.
"This is how we're going to have to play down the stretch," said Wideman. "It's going to be 2-1 hockey games. As we go on, it will be interesting to see how we respond to that. I think we had that challenge tonight and I think we did a great job of it."
For most of the night, the Prudential Center resembled the Lincoln Tunnel during rush hour. Lots of traffic. No room to breathe. Bad manners.
There was Holik spraying Thomas (25 saves, third shutout) with a shower of snow when he stopped short of the goalie at 7:15 of the second, a maneuver that prompted Wideman to cuff the forward in the back of the head. There was the mild-mannered Hunwick trading blows with Langenbrunner in front of the net. There was Zdeno Chara sending David Clarkson tumbling to the ice with a shove in the corner. There was Rupp blasting Wideman facefirst into the boards, then nearly sending Vladimir Sobotka into the New Jersey bench before Thornton came calling.
Thornton approached Rupp from behind and made his intentions known. Rupp turned, obliged, and the two tough guys threw down at center ice.
"Obviously it makes you feel pretty good to see a teammate stand up for you," Wideman said. "That's what he did. That's just the kind of guy Shawn is.
"He's been doing it for a long time. What can you say? Any time a teammate comes in like that and stands up for you, it makes you feel pretty good."
In other words, postseason hockey.
"I think that's exactly what it was," Milan Lucic said of the game's intensity. "Down the stretch, that's how games are going to be.
"We're going to have to win games like that. So far throughout the season, I think we've shown that we can win in all different types of situations. That's a great sign for us."
It wasn't until 49 seconds into the final frame that Lucic broke the ice. The Devils had just killed a slashing penalty to ex-Bruin Brian Rolston, but Boston had control of the puck in the New Jersey zone.
Goalie Scott Clemmensen kicked out a point shot by Shane Hnidy, then booted out another blast by Chara. But the rebound skittered to Lucic in the slot, and the second-year winger stretched his scoring streak to eight games by dumping the puck home at 0:49.
David Krejci added an empty-netter at 19:12 of the third.
"New Jersey is so well-structured and disciplined system-wise," said Chara. "They're just waiting for you to make a mistake.
"Timmy was making some big, big saves for us. Everybody played responsibly defensively. We didn't break down and try to do too much. We stuck with it.
"It was a great team effort tonight. We were really patient with the style they play."