The Boston Bruins clinched a playoff berth on Saturday thanks to a flurry of three short-handed goals, 64 seconds apart on the same penalty, that led to a 4-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Bruins have 89 points, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference, with one game remaining. They are two points ahead of Montreal and three in front of the Rangers and Flyers; one of those three teams will miss the post-season.
Daniel Paille, Blake Wheeler and Steve Begin scored short-handed goals in the second period to make it 3-0, and Milan Lucic added an empty-netter with less than a minute left.
Tuukka Rask stopped 33 shots for Boston.
"We knew it was going to be a dogfight to the end," said Wheeler. "We've had the mentality that it's been a playoff game pretty much here for the last few weeks. And I think we really thrived under that sort of mentality and been playing some pretty good hockey lately."
Cam Ward made 38 saves for the Hurricanes, who finished their season without making the playoffs one year after reaching the Eastern Conference final. Last year, Carolina knocked the Bruins out of the post-season in the conference semifinals with an overtime victory in Game 7 in Boston.
"Things got away from us on our back end, and then you saw some unusual decisions," said Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice. "Quite frankly, I'm surprised we haven't seen that a lot more. We had a lot of young guys back there."
Fans rose to their feet and waved yellow towels for the final 30 seconds Saturday, cheering for the team that had come into the season with high expectations before being cut down by injuries. A year after finishing first in the East, the Bruins had to scrape for the final month to even make the playoffs.
They came through, winning four of their last six games.
"We want to finish as high as possible," said Bruins coach Claude Julien, whose team ends the regular season in Washington on Sunday. "People will remember us as a team for how we finish, not how we start."
Needing only one more point — an overtime loss would have done it — the Bruins erupted to break a scoreless tie after Matt Hunwick was sent off for hooking with 18 seconds left in the first period.
Paille chased the puck down in the Hurricanes' end and brought it across the goal mouth before shooting back and into the net, between Ward's legs. Thirty-nine seconds later, Wheeler scored from the slot. And then off the ensuing faceoff Dennis Wideman made a long pass to Begin, who put in a wrist shot from the left circle.
Bruins penalty-killers strike
The outburst was unexpected from the Bruins, who had only scored three short-handed goals all season before Saturday and haven't scored on their own power play in 22 tries over the last seven games.
Only once since 1964 has an NHL team scored four short-handed goals in a game.
Carolina came back when Erik Cole scored on a wraparound with 5:30 left in the second period. Patrick Dwyer made it a one-goal game on a wrist shot from the slot 2:36 later.
Boston had an apparent power-play goal waved off with 1:20 left in the second when the referee blew the whistle early on a loose puck.
But none of that was the strangest part of the game.
About three minutes into the third period, the Bruins had the puck in the Hurricanes' zone when a delayed penalty was called and they pulled Rask. But an errant pass came out of the zone, bounced off the boards at centre ice and headed toward the empty net.
Patrice Bergeron raced after it and swiped it off the goal line to avert an empty-net own goal that would have tied it 3-3.
"It was going right for the net, so I started going as fast as I could," he said. "There's the 'Not top 10 plays' on ESPN, and I just didn't want to be on there."