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GAME: Philadelphia Flyers (33-15-12-5) at Boston Bruins (30-15-13-7).

TIME: Saturday, 1 p.m. EST.

Although still without top centers Jeremy Roenick and Keith Primeau, the Philadelphia Flyers are slowly getting healthy.

Robert Esche could make his first start in almost a month when the Eastern Conference-leading Flyers continue a three-game trip against the Boston Bruins.

Esche was having the best season of his career before injuring his left knee in a 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Feb. 2. He is 16-6-5 with a .920 save percentage and a 1.91 goals-against average - among the NHL's best GAAs.

Although Philadelphia has acquired Sean Burke since Esche's injury, Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock has not said that Burke would be his No. 1 goalie, leaving the door open for Esche to reclaim that role.

Esche may not be the only Flyer that returns to the lineup Saturday.

Rugged forwards Donald Brashear and Todd Fedoruk also have been cleared to return. Brashear has missed five games with a left knee sprain, while Fedoruk has sat out the past four contests with a bruised and sprained ankle.

"As we start to add people into our lineup, it will be players that were regular players, and they are going to add something," Hitchcock said. "Obviously, Esche is going to add a confident goalie who has had a heck of a year."

While Esche may be healthy enough to play Saturday, Hitchcock could be tempted to start Burke following a stellar performance in a 1-1 tie at Ottawa on Thursday.

Burke stopped 39 shots and Simon Gagne scored a power-play goal midway through the first period for the Flyers, 2-0-1 after a season-high three-game losing streak.

"We know we could have been better but any time that you come into Ottawa and get a 1-1 tie at the start of a big road trip, it's important," Flyers forward Mark Recchi said. "We'll thank Burke for this one, take the point and move forward."

Philadelphia, one of several teams battling for the Presidents' Trophy, is one point ahead of Ottawa for the best record in the East.

Boston, three points behind Northeast Division-leading Ottawa, has gained at least a point in 14 of its last 15 games (8-1-3-3).

The Bruins suffered their conference-leading seventh overtime loss of the season Thursday, 3-2 to Montreal.

Martin Lapointe and Travis Green had goals for the Bruins, 0-1-2-1 in their last four.

"As long as we are peaking for the playoffs, that's all that counts," Bruins captain Joe Thornton said. "It is a test for us in the postseason to play these overtime games."

Boston was without two of its top forwards Thursday.

Center Patrice Bergeron, one of the leading contenders for the Calder Trophy, sat out with a bruised shoulder. Left wing Sergei Samsonov missed his third straight game with a rib injury.

STANDINGS: Flyers - 83 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division. Bruins - 80 points, 2nd place (tied), 2 PB, Northeast Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Flyers - Recchi, 22 goals, 39 assists and 61 points; Brashear, 131 PIM. Bruins - Glen Murray, 27 goals; Thornton, 45 assists and 61 points; Doug Doull, 108 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Feb. 26): Flyers - Power play: 23.6 percent (58 for 246), 1st in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.3 percent (237 for 281), 16th. Bruins - Power play: 16.3 percent (39 for 240), 14th. Penalty killing: 83.8 percent (218 for 260), 20th.

GOALTENDERS: Flyers - Burke (14-18-6, 1 SO, 2.82 GAA); Esche (16-6-5, 2, 1.91). Bruins - Andrew Raycroft (21-15-7, 3, 1.97); Felix Potvin (9-7-6, 4, 2.64).


LAST MEETING: Feb. 19; Bruins, 4-3. At Philadelphia, Bergeron snapped a tie late in the second period and Murray scored on the power play 31 seconds into the third for Boston.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Flyers - 13-8-10-2 on the road; Bruins - 12-9-7-2 at home.

Associated Press
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