PHILADELPHIA -- Desperate to maintain their hold on eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings, the Boston Bruins played one of their best games of the season Thursday night and made the Philadelphia Flyers play one of their worst.
The Bruins dominated from beginning to end, crushing the Flyers 5-1 in their own building to increase their lead over the ninth-place New York Rangers to five points.
"We had really good legs and everybody was ready to play," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who returned to the lineup after missing Tuesday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs with a leg injury. "We made some simple-but-important plays to establish our forecheck. Without that, we couldn't put pressure on them. I thought we did a really good job with that and we created a lot of offensive chances by putting pucks on net. We created a lot of traffic in front. We scored three of those goals off rebounds."
According to Chara, the Bruins left their dressing room ready to fight bears barehanded and with the expectation of victory.
"We tried to create that energy before the game and bring emotion to our game," Chara said. "Guys really took it to heart and that's what we have to do before every game. That's when we play our best."
The Bruins, Eastern Conference champions a year ago but the lowest-scoring team in the NHL this season, suffered a crushing blow Sunday when offensive leader Marc Savard suffered a Grade 2 concussion that could keep him out for the season. That puts pressure on Patrice Bergeron, himself a concussion victim in both of the last two seasons, to be the team's offensive leader as first-line center.
"It's really hard to replace Marc," Chara said. "He's a great player and an unbelievable playmaker. Patrice knows he has to carry the offense and he's doing a really good job right now. You can tell he's on top of his game, making plays offensively and defensively. He's leading the way for us right now."
Bergeron led the Bruins with a goal and a pair of assists and rookie goalie Tuukka Rask made 31 saves, but there were many heroes for the Bruins. Second-line center David Krejci had a goal and an assist. Blake Wheeler also had a goal and an assist, as did Marco Sturm. Newly acquired defenseman Dennis Seidenberg had two assists and joined with Mark Stuart in pounding Flyers tough guy Danny Carcillo, who eventually left the game late in the third period with a 10-minute misconduct after pushing linesman Greg Devorski.
Stuart beat up the Flyers' fourth line, scoring a three-punch knockdown of Carcillo less than a minute after Wheeler put the Bruins up 1-0 at 4:37 of the first period. Stuart pulled the jersey over Ian Laperriere's head and gently wrestled the veteran to the ice at 7:41 of the second period.
Adding further insult, Bruins left wing Brad Marchand, 5-foot-9, unceremoniously dumped 6-foot-3 James van Riemsdyk into the Flyers bench as the Philadelphia rookie tried to carry the puck up ice.
Jeff Carter scored his 32nd goal for the Flyers. Goalie Michael Leighton was driven from the net at 11:16 of the second period after surrendering the fourth goal to Krejci. Backup Brian Boucher stopped 11 of the 12 shots he faced.
"None of those goals were really (Leighton's) fault, they were backdoor goals, they were second or third opportunities, so he knows they weren't his fault," Flyers captain Mike Richards said in defense of his goalie. "It's just we were trying to return and get the two goals."
"We left Michael out to dry. You go back and look at the goals, our defense was porous," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "It didn't do what it needed to do in front of our goaltender in order for us to be successful. We had opportunities. We could have scored six. But their goaltender played a really good game.
"Defensively, we didn't help our goaltender at all. Just simple things… in front of the net, our backcheck was slow. There was no urgency to support defensively. Flying by guys, flying by the puck… we need to be better than that. It wasn't sharp. It's not where it needs to be in order to win hockey games."
The teams played evenly for about 10 minutes before the Bruins gained the upper hand when Wheeler opened the scoring with a backhander past Leighton's right side off a feed from Krejci. That was followed 47 seconds later by Stuart's quick defeat of Carcillo, who had a tough night. After checking Seidenberg into the end boards, Carcillo was driven face-first into the glass by Seidenberg 40 seconds into the second period. Carter then scored four seconds into the power play, assisted by Scott Hartnell, to make it 1-1.
The Bruins broke the tie at 4:37 of the second when Mark Recchi's 20-foot shot from the left wing beat Leighton. Bergeron made it 3-1 at 10:30 when he chased the rebound of Matt Hunwick's left-point shot that appeared to hit Sturm and beat Leighton to the glove side.
The Bruins went up 4-1 when Wheeler carried in on the left side, pulled up, waited patiently and was unchallenged before passing to Michael Ryder who found Krejci all alone in front.
"It all clicked for us tonight," Wheeler said. "We did a great job of skating. The defensemen moved the puck quick and those tiny little things make a world of difference. When you're forcing the puck a lot on the forecheck that's how you get the puck back a lot."
Carcillo had more trouble at 12:20 of the third period when he scrapped with Hunwick in the Bruins' crease after his shot on Rask. Carcillo pushed back at Devorski and left the game with a 10-minute misconduct. Hunwick and Carcillo both received roughing minors.
The Bruins scored 15 seconds later when Bergeron carried in and passed to Sturm for a wide-open shot that made it 5-1.
After the third goal, the Flyers were thoroughly confused. They had trouble passing in their own zone. They're offensive attack sputtered and the repeatedly made the wrong choice in defensive coverage. Laperriere was asked if the Bruins "mesmerized" the Flyers.
"I don't think it's mesmerized, it's more, I don't know, maybe second-guessing, I don't know, just one of those, if you think too much out there sometimes you don't react and when you do react, you react too late, and I think it was more that than anything else," he said, still sounding confused.