GAME PREVIEW: Flyers vs. Boston Bruins

The Game: The Flyers look to make it three for three on their current homestand tonight at the Wachovia Center as they play host to the Boston Bruins.

It’s the first meeting between the two teams since they clashed at Fenway Park on New Year’s Day in the Bridgestone 2010 NHL Winter Classic.  The Flyers come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the NHL, riding a 7-2-1 record in their last ten games, while the Bruins aren’t far behind the Orange and Black, using a 6-2-2 record in their last ten to get back into the thick of the playoff picture.  Entering tonight’s contest, the Flyers are sitting in the East’s 6th spot, with a record of 35-26-4.  The Bruins occupy the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference at the moment with a record of 29-24-12.

The Story: It goes without saying that the Flyers will certainly have revenge on their minds when the two teams meet tonight.  Boston literally snatched victory in the Winter Classic right from the Flyers’ hands in the final two minutes of regulation off a Mark Recchi goal, then grabbed the two points with an overtime tally from Marco Sturm.  At that point in the season, it was hard to tell the differences between either team, they seemed very evenly matched both on paper and during the course of play in the game.  However, now it appears the Flyers have the upper hand in both of the aforementioned categories.  The Bruins find themselves at a serious loss without Mr. Do-Everything Marc Savard and a team that struggled to score to begin with will see those problems escalate without having #91 in the Black and Gold’s lineup day in and day out.  Without Savard’s wizardry with the puck, and the apparent absence of Zdeno Chara’s shot from the point tonight as Boston’s big-man is supposedly not playing, expect some rough sailing ahead for Boston.  The Bruins are certainly a vulnerable group right now, but it’s hard to imagine they would come out flat in such a big game.

Who to Watch on the Bruins: Patrice Bergeron, Center.

Bergeron will be a big reason as to why the Bruins do or do not make the playoffs

Many of you may know Bergeron from his most recent achievement: being a member of the Gold Medal winning Team Canada Men’s Hockey Team at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.  Some of you may also recognize Bergeron as the guy who Randy Jones knocked out cold with a blatant hit from behind a few years back in a game between the Flyers and Bruins in Boston.  Regardless, with Savard down and out for the likely the remainder of the season, the pressure to produce offensively in Boston now hinges squarely on the shoulders of Bergeron.  Believe me, he can definitely handle the pressure.  Bergeron is an exceptional face-off man, and can generate scoring chances seemingly at will.  However, now he is shifted into the number one center role on the depth chart and it will be very interesting to see how he responds to his new role.  I have a feeling we’ll all get a good idea of how he’ll take his newfound pressure in the playoff-atmosphere type game that will be played in Philadelphia tonight.

The Skinny: The Flyers and Bruins have previously met three times this season, making this game the fourth and final contest between the two teams in the 2009-’10 NHL regular season.  The Flyers won the first two games, a 4-3 decision in Philadelphia, and a 3-1 game in Boston, before falling 2-1 in overtime to the Bruins in the Winter Classic.  This game is equally crucial for both the Flyers and the Bruins as both teams are slowly starting to round out their schedule.  Each team has 17 games – including this one – left in the ’09-’10 regular season, and there are only 4 points separating the two teams heading into tonight.  Meaning this game has the proverbial 6-point-swing attached to it.  A Flyers win in regulation would put them 6 points – 3 wins – ahead of Boston and give the Orange and Black a little breathing room as the East’s 6th seed.  A Bruins win in regulation would put them only 2 points – 1 win – behind the Flyers in the East standings and make everything that much tighter in the playoff race.

Notes: Michael Leighton will get the nod for the Flyers and US Olympian Tim Thomas will be in between the pipes for the Bruins in a Winter Classic rematch also between the two of them.  Two interesting stats I noticed while reading the Flyers’ website this morning that I talked about on the radio show earlier today: The Flyers are 30-13-3 with veteran Blair Betts centering their fourth line and in the line-up, while they are 5-13-1 without him.  Same goes for Darroll Powe, the Flyers are 33-12-2 with him, 2-14-2 without him.  Depth in lines is so important to teams pushing for the playoffs, and it appears – barring injury – the Flyers have just that.  Both Betts and Powe will be in the line-up tonight for the Flyers.

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