Penalty-kill unit powers on

BOSTON -- Steve Begin obviously suffers from a case of "wishful hearing."

After the Bruins rode the strength of three short-handed goals to a playoff-clinching 4-2 victory over Carolina at TD Garden on Saturday afternoon, he was asked about Boston's ability to score on the penalty kill in light of its ineptitude on the power play.

"I heard they're going to put us on the power play," Begin said, referencing him, Daniel Paille and Blake Wheeler -- three players who didn't skate on the power play Saturday but lit the lamp with the Bruins a man down over a span of 1:04 in the second period.

Who knows? With the Bruins' power play heading into Sunday's regular-season finale at Washington at a 4-for-50 clip since Marc Savard's concussion, maybe coach Claude Julien will reinsert Wheeler on the man advantage, or reach for truly drastic solutions by mixing in Begin and Paille. But in Paille and Begin's cases, that's highly unlikely, because they're far too valuable on the penalty kill to waste their energy trying to score 5-on-4.

In a season that's featured inconsistency from almost every player on the roster and in every aspect of the game, the Bruins' penalty kill has been rock-solid since late October, coincidentally (or maybe not so much) when Paille was acquired in a trade with Buffalo. Boston spent a great deal of the next four months atop the NHL penalty-killing rankings, and it entered Saturday's game third.

"We've been working hard on it," said Begin. "Like I've been saying, everybody's on the same page. When one guy goes hard, the other guy goes hard too. So that was the main thing. We get a lot of video and stuff. The coaches help us a lot. It's just a matter of going out there and executing, so that's what we've been doing since October."

With Matt Hunwick in the box and the game scoreless early in the second period, Paille won a race to the puck in the Carolina end and then cut toward the net. He lost the handle at the top of the crease but recovered enough to beat goaltender Cam Ward with a shot past the short side. The goal ended a 21-game drought for Paille and a three-month-long drought for the penalty killers -- who've had their share of chances to chip in for the league's worst offense.

"Us scoring on those opportunities was huge," said Paille, who has now scored one of Boston's six short-handed goals this season. "We've had that all year, it just never went in. It's good to see us get rewarded with all the effort that we put out there, and get those big goals at the time that it was 0-0."

Just 49 seconds later, Wheeler tipped home a feed from his penalty-killing partner, David Krejci. And then Boston set an NHL record when Begin beat Ward 5-hole on the rush at 1:36 of the period.

The previous three fastest short-handed goals in NHL history were scored by Winnipeg in 4:44 of a game against Vancouver.

The Bruins benefited from some sloppy play by the Hurricanes, who were playing their season finale and obviously thinking about summer. With a defense corps missing mainstays Joni Pitkanen and Tim Gleason, Carolina suffered from "some unusual decisions," as Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice called them, by a few of the young defensive replacements. Nonetheless, the Bruins' penalty-killing corps turned up the heat to take advantage and it paid off in some momentum-turning opportunities and scores.

"To provide us with some goals in a much-needed game was huge," said Julien. "Paille, Begin, who specialize most of the time in that area, did a good job. And the other duos, again, participated as well. I thought it was a job well-done by them. We talked about putting more pressure, even on the PK, not sitting back and letting a team come at you when we could put pressure in the offensive zone. It's important for us to go after them and it paid off tonight."

It could continue to pay off for Boston in the postseason. And if the power play doesn't rise out of its doldrums, Julien might have a few secret weapons he could shift from one special-teams unit to the other.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.