ATLANTA -- For a team that has failed to take control of the Northeast Division, the Boston Bruins remained awfully upbeat in the face of adversity.
With a five-game winless streak hanging over, Bruins goalie Byron Dafoe said positive thinking was the key to a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Friday night that gave Boston sole possession of the division lead.
Dafoe stopped 21 shots as his fourth shutout of the season and 26th career moved Boston two points ahead of Toronto. The Maple Leafs are biding their time while All-Star goalie Curtis Joseph recovers from a broken hand.
Until Friday, the Bruins had failed to put any distance between themselves and the Maple Leafs.
"Not just that," Dafoe reminded, "but we've lost ground since Cujo's been out.
"As a team, we've been struggling since the (Olympic) break. It's been tough and this was almost a must-win for us. I tried to be extra sharp tonight and tried to get myself charged up a little more than normal."
So forgive Dafoe if he started to feel a little anxious when Atlanta's Dany Heatley hit the post in the first minute of the game, and the Bruins couldn't get any of their 11 shots past Pasi Nurminen in a scoreless first period.
Then Boston had a second-period goal disallowed when it took more than five minutes of video review to determine whether the puck deflected in off the raised stick of Boston's Rob Zamuner or Atlanta's Daniel Tjarnqvist. The players were tangled up in front of the net.
"Believe me, I thought about it," Dafoe said. "But I told myself to stay positive and we knew we would turn things around eventually."
Marty McInnis finally put Boston ahead at 10:43 of the second, sweeping the puck - while on his stomach - through Nurminen's pads after being wrestled down by defenseman Jiri Slegr. It was McInnis' 10th of the season and first since being acquired from Anaheim earlier this week.
Glen Murray made it 2-0 just 35 seconds later when he slammed home a sensational cross-ice pass from Sergei Samsonov. It was Murray's 29th goal, tying his career high.
"That was big," Boston's Bill Guerin said. "To get a big goal like that called back can be a letdown at times, but that wasn't the case tonight. We came back just as hard and got a couple quick ones."
P.J. Axelsson scored a short-handed goal to make it 3-0 at 13:12 of the third. Nurminen stopped Brian Rolston on a breakaway, but Axelsson cleaned up the rebound for his fifth of the season.
The Thrashers lost their fourth straight as they were held to one goal or fewer for the sixth time in 12 games.
"We battled hard, but all of a sudden we can't score goals," Atlanta coach Curt Fraser said. "We have to find a way to address that because we had been scoring two or three goals a game."
The Bruins were without center Joe Thornton, who was eligible to return from a three-game high-sticking suspension but was scratched with an injury to his left shoulder sustained in practice Thursday. He is expected to undergo an MRI exam in Boston on Saturday.
The Bruins had lost all three games during Thornton's suspension and were 0-4-1 in the previous five overall.
Notes: Boston outshot Atlanta 38-21. ... Boston C Jozef Stumpel played in his 600th career game. ... Thrashers defensemen have scored six of the team's last 11 goals. ... The Thrashers boasted just their third sellout of season with an announced crowd of 18,545. ... Atlanta has killed 16 straight penalties and 24 of 26. ... Boston took the season series 3-1.
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