- Joe McDonald, Reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are your Northeast Division champions.
The Bruins’ Michael Ryder capitalized on a penalty shot goal at 12:31 of the third period that proved to be the game-winning goal en route to a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden as Boston earned the division title.
It wasn’t the Bruins’ best effort, but they finally clinched the Northeast Division title.
GET SHORTY: Paille netted a short-handed goal at 6:18 of the second period to tie the game at 2-2. It was Boston’s 11th shorty of the season, tying the Rangers for fourth in the league in that category. Bruins’ Brad Marchand, who netted one last Thursday, is second in the league with five short-handed goals.
RARE OPPORTUNITY: It’s not too often a goalie is called for delay of game for playing the puck outside of the trapezoid. Rask was whistled for the infraction at 11:06 of the first period and the Thrashers wasted little time capitalizing on the power play. Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien scored at 11:11 to tie the game at 1-1.
IN AND OUT: Defenseman Shane Hnidy returned to the lineup for the Bruins. After suffering a severe shoulder injury during training camp with the Phoenix Coyotes, Hnidy signed with the Bruins on Feb. 26 and it was his first game since April 10, 2010. He admitted prior to the game that he was feeling anxious and nervous.
“I’m excited; it’s been a while,” Hnidy said. “I’ve put in a lot of practice and a lot of work and now it’s time to go out there and put everything into the game.”
With Hnidy back, fellow Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid was given the day off. Steve Kampfer was also a healthy scratch and Shawn Thornton has not been given medical clearance to return after receiving more than 40 stitches to his forehead after being hit with skate blade Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. Thornton should be able to play Monday in New York.
WELCOME BACK: Former Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart and forward Blake Wheeler returned to the Garden on Saturday as members of the Thrashers for the first time since both were traded on Feb. 18 in exchange for Rich Peverley and Boris Valabik. Stuart played a total of 283 games for the Bruins between 2005-06 and this season. Wheeler collected a total of 110 points in 221 games played in Boston, beginning with his rookie season in 2008-09.
“They were good players for us,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I keep saying that you don’t always trade players nowadays because you don’t like them. You trade players today because of necessity and you’re trying to fill certain voids, and in order to do that, you have to move some players because of cap issues and everything else.
“A lot of times, some players are being scarified for the sake of other players coming in. I think both guys were good assets to our hockey club. And it’s too bad that you had to get rid of them, but that’s the nature of the game nowadays.”
Stuart made his presence known with his typical physical play, especially when he laid out Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle in the waning minutes of the second period right in front of the Boston bench.
AND THE WINNER IS: Bruins’ Brad Marchand was honored in a pregame ceremony as this season’s Seventh Player Award winner. The 22-year-old forward entered Saturday’s game against the Thrashers with 21 goals and 19 assists for 40 points in 72 games this season. Tuukka Rask (2010), David Krejci (2009) and Milan Lucic (2008) have also won the award in the past.
UP NEXT: The Bruins head to New York to play the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Monday night at 7:30 p.m. ET.
9dJoe McDonald and Kyle Brasseur
45dKyle Brasseur, Special to ESPNBoston.com