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2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic set to face off

by John McGourty
FLYERS (19-18-2) at BRUINS (20-12-7)

Last 10 -- Philadelphia 5-4-1; Boston 5-3-2

Season series -- This is the third of four meetings between the teams this season. The Flyers won the first two games and they meet again March 11 in Philadelphia. The Flyers won the first game, 4-3, Oct. 22 in Philadelphia when Claude Giroux beat Tuukka Rask in the shootout. The Flyers ended a 1-7 run on Dec. 14 when they beat the Bruins, 3-1, at the TD Garden. Kimmo Timonen scored twice and Brian Boucher made 26 saves.

Big story -- Welcome to the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. Both teams have tried to put this game out of their minds for several weeks as they concentrated on righting their respective listing ships. The Flyers are 5-7-1 since Peter Laviolette replaced John Stevens as coach on Dec. 5 but winners of their last four games. Bruins center Marc Savard appears to be fully recovered from the broken left foot he suffered in late October. The Bruins are 4-1 in their last five games as Savard has posted a goal and seven assists.

Team Scope:

Flyers -- Goalie Michael Leighton, picked up on waivers from Carolina on Dec. 5, has won his last four starts while allowing only six goals. He has a 1.50 goals-against average and a .953 save percentage. Left wing Simon Gagne has four goals, including a hat trick in his last game against the New York Rangers, and three assists in the six games since he returned from hernia surgery. Laviolette has installed an aggressive, two-man forecheck that has made the Flyers hard to play against.

Bruins -- The Bruins have the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. Reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, who will start Friday, is 10-9-5 with a 2.42 GAA and .918 save percentage. Rask is 10-3-2 with a 1.85 GAA and .935 save percentage. The defense is also solid but the Bruins have trouble scoring, ranking 26th with 2.5 goals-per-game. They rank 19th with only 17.8 percent efficiency on the power play after finishing fourth last year with a 23.6 percent success rate.

Who's hot -- Flyers captain Mike Richards has six points in the past four games. Linemate Danny Briere has four points in two games as does Jeff Carter. Giroux has five points in the last two games. … Boston left wing Marco Sturm has goals in four of his past five games. Defenseman Dennis Wideman has four points in his past four games.

Injury report -- Bruins left wing Milan Lucic suffered a high-ankle strain on Nov. 26 and has missed 15 games. He's played only 10 games all season but he's due back soon. Defenseman Mark Stuart has missed seven games with a fractured sternum and is due back in late January. … Flyers defenseman Ryan Parent has missed three games with back spasms and is day-to-day. Goalie Ray Emery had abdominal surgery on Dec. 9 and is due back in late January. Defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefson suffered an MCL strain in the Dec. 14 Bruins game, his first game after missing 16 games with a concussion. He's played only 10 games this season.

Stat pack --
Neither the Flyers nor Bruins have a player among the top 30 scorers but both are in position for a playoff berth, the Bruins ranking fifth in the Eastern Conference and the Flyers eighth. The Flyers still lead the NHL by taking 17.5 penalty-minutes-per-game but that number has been declining under Laviolette. Boston, taking only 11.5 penalty minutes on average, ranks eighth. The Flyers have 20 percent power-play efficiency on the road while the Bruins kill 88.8 percent of penalties at home. The Bruins score on 22.2 percent of their home power plays while the Flyers kill 79.5 percent of road penalties.

Puck Drop --
"I think players are just playing a little looser," Laviolette said after the Flyers beat the Rangers, 6-0, Wednesday night. "We're trying to check all the baggage at the door and the pressures of what it is we're trying to do. Just go out and play hard and have fun and I feel we're starting to do that."

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