HAMILTON, Ont. -- The Hamilton Bulldogs are focused on keeping their composure period by period as their season winds down.
Christian Thomas's second-period goal stood as the winner and Dustin Tokarski made 27 saves as the Bulldogs defeated the Abbotsford Heat 2-1 on Wednesday in the American Hockey League.
"Tonight we stayed composed, even when we thought we had another goal in the third period," said Hamilton head coach Sylvain Lefebvre. "We kept working, and we have to get used to playing those tight hockey games.
"That's what gets you to the playoffs, and that's what helps you win hockey games when you get there."
A post-season berth is far from Hamilton's grasp, however. The Bulldogs remain 10 points back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, with just 14 games to play.
Mike Blunden and Gabriel Dumont also scored for Hamilton (27-30-5).
Chris Breen had the lone goal for the Heat (34-23-7), who have lost 10 of their last 11 games. Aaron Dell stopped 36 shots.
Michael Bournival made his debut for the Bulldogs on Wednesday, having been sent to the team by the Montreal Canadiens a day earlier on a conditioning assignment.
After playing 50 games for Montreal in his rookie season, the forward suffered a concussion in a Feb. 6 game against the Vancouver Canucks, and was cleared for contact on March 14.
His insertion in the Bulldogs' lineup provided a much-needed boost to the top line, and the combination of Bournival, Sven Andrighetto and Thomas used its speed to great effect against the Heat in the first period.
Thomas was very pleased with the line's first game together, and felt comfortable playing alongside Bournival, who he came across several times at the junior level.
"It's always tough playing with a new guy, but (Bournival) fits in really well and brings a lot of speed," he said. "I've known him for a long time, and grew up playing with him at world junior camps.
"I've seen him quite a bit, and obviously he has some NHL experience. But he plays a hard game and that always helps your line."
Hamilton was getting the best of play, but it was Abbotsford that opened the scoring at 8:56.
Ex-Bulldog Corey Locke controlled the puck below Hamilton's goal-line, and connected with the open Breen as he glided into the high slot. The defenceman released a mid-range wrist shot that Tokarski only partially connected with, and the puck trickled over the goal-line.
It was Breen's first goal of the season.
Pressure did eventually pay off for Hamilton, as Blunden stole the puck from Abbotsford defender Shane O'Brien to create an equalizing goal.
The winger moved in alone on Dell and shifted from backhand to forehand before lofting a shot over the far shoulder of the goaltender at 17:55.
Blunden nearly scored his second of the game with 10 minutes to play in the second period, as Dell kicked a Morgan Ellis slap shot from the point out to his right and the winger narrowly missed a tap in attempt at the post.
Thomas did better with Hamilton's next scoring chance, as the Bulldogs took the lead at 12:42.
After a period and a half of successful forechecking, Hamilton's top line got on the board when Bournival fought off a defender along the right wing and fired a low wrist shot that Dell knocked into the path of Thomas to his right.
The rookie winger did the rest, slotting a quick shot past the sprawling goaltender from close range.
Consecutive penalties to Nathan Beaulieu posed a late challenge for the Bulldogs, but their penalty killing unit responded well to hold the lead through 40 minutes of play.
Hamilton entered play on Wednesday with an 18-0-1 record when leading after two periods.
Tokarski did his part to preserve the lead, snatching a Max Reinhart wrist shot out of the air from point blank range with just under six minutes to play.
His save was rewarded at the other end of the ice, as Dumont was awarded a penalty shot after being tripped with a clear path to the net, and made good on the chance.
Slowly skating toward Dell, Dumont stopped abruptly and shifted to his forehand to tuck the puck in behind him at 16:01 of the third period.
Neither team made use of their power plays on Wednesday, as Hamilton went 0 for 2 while Abbotsford was 0 for 3.