PHILADELPHIA -- Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara was raring to go after sitting out the previous two games with a knee injury.
The Bruins' captain registered a Gordie Howe hat trick, including a fight on his first shift of the game, to set the tempo and goalie Tim Thomas turned aside 31 shots as the defending Stanley Cup champions routed the Philadelphia Flyers 6-0 in a Saturday matinee in the City of Brotherly Love.
The triumph enabled the Bruins, 18-2-1 since the start of November, to leap over the Flyers (20-8-3) into first place in the Eastern Conference. It also snapped Philadelphia's seven-game winning streak.
The Bruins (21-9-1), who extended their longest current road streak against any opponent to 8-0-1 in Philadelphia, received goals from six players while going 3-for-8 on the power-play in recording their fourth straight victory. The Bruins built a 4-0 advantage in the opening 20 minutes and coasted the rest of the way.
"We tried to have strong opening 20 minutes and everything was developing and happening so fast," Chara said. "You always want your special teams to be clicking and we killed their chances [on six power-play chances] so it was nice."
In addition the offensive barrage, Thomas made 14 saves in the first period en route to notching his fourth shutout of the season and second against the Flyers in 16 career games.
"You can't say that we drew [the first period] up on the board and expected it to happen," Thomas said. "Those are some of those fortuitous things that happen to a team and we were happy to take it. We didn't plan it, but the important thing was how we reacted to it. We got the 4-0 lead and tried to shut it down for the rest of the night, and we didn't give an opportunity to a great team, like Philly, to get back into the game."
The victory enabled Bruins coach Claude Julien to become the fifth coach in team history to reach 200 wins behind the bench. Julien is 200-112-47 in 359 games as Bruins coach.
After sweeping a two-game trip through Washington and Montreal, the Flyers were sluggish in the first period as the Bruins fired 16 shots and beat Ilya Bryzgalov with four of them.
"Nothing was going our way," forward Danny Briere said. "I really believe you create your own bounces, and we weren't ready off the get go. I think the mindset was more 'Let's see if we can stay in this game, let's see how it goes and we'll kind of ease our way into the game.'
"That's the feeling that I got from a lot of guys -- and it's certainly the wrong way to go about it when you're facing a top team who are defending Stanley Cup champions."
The teams also combined for 48 minutes in penalties in the opening period, including two fights -- Chara mixed it up with Jody Shelley 2:13 into the game and Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk went with Scott Hartnell at 17:48.
"He asked me to fight," Chara told the media when asked if he was challenged by Shelley.
Benoit Pouliot began the flurry when he deflected home a pass from Rich Peverley at the left post just 27 seconds into the game. Daniel Paille extended the lead at 2:50 when he slammed home his sixth of the season from the left hash mark. Chara then blasted home the first of two straight power-play goals on a shot from the left point at 8:08. Milan Lucic redirected a shot in front at 17:10 with his team on the man advantage for a 4-0 lead.
"I think we were real slow, we didn't have energy and they got every bounce," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "They were obviously a better team. We have to think about the game a little bit because we [stunk]. But we have to move on."
Chara completed his Gordie Howe hat trick 7:06 into the second when he assisted Nathan Horton's goal. Chara's blast from the left point bounced off Ilya Bryzgalov's pads and onto the stick of Horton, who easily flipped home his ninth of the season.
"Seeing "Z" get the Gordie Howe was great," Thomas said. "He's an important part of our team. We did a good job without him in the lineup ... finding ways to victory. But having him in the lineup boosts our confidence and makes us a better team, no doubt."
In addition to suffering their first loss in eight games, the Flyers also lost rookie Sean Couturier, who was struck by a puck on the side of the head with 48.7 seconds left in the first. Couturier was taken to Pennsylvania Hospital for further evaluation.
Philadelphia, which now begins a five-game road swing without Couturier, Chris Pronger (concussion), Claude Giroux (concussion) and Brayden Schenn (concussion), entered Saturday's game having lost 100 man-games to injury or illness.
"It was very scary [to see Couturier get hit]," Briere said. "I talked to him a little bit between periods and he didn't feel too bad, but not all that great, either. I'll try to give him a call on my way to the airport. I'm hoping for the best now.
"These are really tough [injuries] but I'm hoping we all get them out of the way right now so down the stretch, in the playoffs, we're at full strength."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette replaced Bryzgalov with Sergei Bobrovsky after Horton's goal in the second. Bryzgalov finished the game with 15 saves on 20 shots.
Thomas, now 11-3-2 lifetime against Philadelphia, made perhaps his best save of the game a little over a minute after Horton's goal when he denied Hartnell's breakaway to keep the Flyers scoreless.
Bruins second-year forward Tyler Seguin closed out the scoring with his team-leading 14th goal of the season at 12:12 of the third, beating Bobrovsky to the stick side.
Briere admitted that, despite the rash of injuries, now is not the time to start making excuses.
"Lately we were winning without Chris [Pronger] and Claude [Giroux], so we're not going to start using [injuries] as an excuse," Briere said. "We feel bad for those guys, but we have lots of guys in the room that can do the job and until they come back, that's the way we have to go about business."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale