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Fernandez covers for Thomas, leads East-best B's to fourth straight win

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are going to be in the playoffs -- perhaps for a nice, long run -- and Manny Fernandez would like to be able to help them while they are there.

"Guys have got to feel confident, no matter what happens, that another goalie can help them win," the Bruins backup said Tuesday night after stopping 24 shots to lead Boston to its fourth straight victory, 3-1 over the Tampa Bay Lightning. "I've got to make sure my game is there, whenever I come in."

Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew scored -- becoming Boston's seventh and eighth 20-goal scorers this season. Zdeno Chara matched his career high with his 17th goal and added an assist for the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins, who lead the Washington Capitals by nine points and the New Jersey Devils by 10.

Boston could clinch home-ice advantage through the conference finals as early as Thursday night if both Washington and New Jersey lose on Wednesday.

"We've looked each other in the eye, and from here on out we'll let the personal stats take a hike," Fernandez said. "What's important are the two points every night."

Mike McKenna made 36 saves for the Lightning, who have lost seven of eight.

Steven Stamkos whacked a rebound over Fernandez with 7:53 left -- his 20th goal -- to spoil the Boston backup's shutout bid. Vincent Lecavalier hit the post on a power play with four minutes left, and that was Tampa Bay's best chance at a comeback.

"You'd like to keep teaching and look for players that want to compete in the NHL. It makes your job easier when you see guys that are not competing," Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said. "It's the same kinds of things: We're not winning battles."

Fernandez, who backs up Vezina Trophy contender Tim Thomas, had lost five straight before eking out a 7-5 victory over Toronto on Saturday. But this time he shut down the 14th-place Lightning on a first-period 5-on-3 to protect a 1-0 lead, then held on for his second win since Jan. 8.

"He looks a lot more confident, a lot more poised," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "It's important to have your backup goaltender ready for anything if called upon. It's only fair to our team, to make sure he's as sharp as he can be. We're getting ready for that."

Wheeler backhanded a shot past McKenna with 5:57 left in the first period to give Boston a 1-0 lead, then the Bruins got a pair of power-play goals just as the penalized Lightning players were settling into the box.

Patrice Bergeron fed a perfect cross-ice pass to Chara, who one-timed it as he was coming in from the right circle to make it 2-0 just 25 seconds into Evgeny Artyukhin's high-sticking minor. Kobasew made it 3-0 later in the second when he redirected Chara's shot from the point -- losing his stick in the process -- 19 seconds into Richard Petiot's hooking penalty.

"If you're trying to top Z's shot -- it's pretty tough," Kobasew said. "They come in pretty good."

Game notes
Former Boston College and NFL quarterback Doug Flutie was in the crowd as the Bruins dedicated the game to autism awareness. Flutie's son, Doug Jr., is autistic. ... Bruins LW Shawn Thornton was a late scratch with an undisclosed injury -- his first missed game of the season. ... Bruins RW Phil Kessel missed his third straight game with an undisclosed injury. ... Bruins C David Krejci had two assists, giving him nine points in six games. ... The Lightning have allowed a power-play goal in seven of eight games. ... Tampa Bay has not scored a power-play goal in five games.