Top dogs battle for East supremacy

Top dogs battle for East supremacy
December 17, 2011, 7:00 am
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OTTAWA The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy is coming at just the right time for the Bruins.

After knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins as top dogs nearly two weeks ago and sending them into a downward spiral without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the Bruins pull into Philadelphia for a Saturday afternoon matinee against the top dog Flyers. Philly has won seven games in a row and leads the NHL by a wide margin with an explosive offense averaging 3.66 goals per game with the Bruins in a distant second place.

On the other hand the Bruins are a ridiculous 17-2-1 in their last 20 games, and cant seem to lose even when theyre admittedly playing a mistake-prone, sloppy brand of hockey.

Thats the kind of thing that can happen when a team is second in the NHL in offense (3.3 goals per game), first in defense (2.0 goals against per game), just outside the top 10 with a power play cranking with a 17.4 percent success rate and third in the NHL killing 87.9 percent of the penalties called against them.

So the Bruins are once again walking into a hostile arena to do battle with a hockey club thats rolling, but its also a team Boston has handled pretty well in their backyard over the last few seasons.

In fact Tim Thomas has owned the Flyers in their home rink in both the regular season and the playoffs, and the Philly Faithful will likely have vivid memories of Thomas 52-save effort in last years playoffs that effectively buried the Flyers.

The 37-year-old Thomas is 10-3 in his career with a 2.18 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 15 games against the Flyers, and has routinely dominated at the Wells Fargo Center. He should be getting the start coming off a solid 47-save victory over the Senators.

It is a challenge, but I think weve always responded well to the challenge in Philadelphia, said Claude Julien. I dont seem to recall us playing a stinker in there. We seem to match up well with that team. Theyre always interesting games and good games, and were hoping for the same tomorrow.

But they are playing well and we really need a good challenge thats going to give us a bit of a jolt. I felt like the practice that we had today is one of the best that weve had in a while, so hopefully thats a good sign.

Theres also the stunning contrast between the two hockey clubs when it comes to the health situation. The Bruins are getting massive defenseman Zdeno Chara back after he missed only two games with a knee injury suffered last weekend in Columbus, and that became something of a definite when the team announced that Jordan Caron and Steve Kampfer were being sent to Providence for this weekend.

Meanwhile Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is probably done for the season with post-concussion syndrome, potential Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux is out with a concussion and the Flyers are winning despite getting waylaid in the war of attrition.

I was surprised. I didnt know why Pronger was out. I didnt see the hit until today or yesterday, said Chris Kelly. Thats a big loss for them and to the league. Hes an elite player and a lot of people in visiting buildings come to see him play.

I hope he gets well. All these guys with concussions, you never want to see that happen to anyone. The other injuries separated shoulder and banged up knees or injuries from blocking shots are a part of the game, but concussions are a different beast. I hope all of those guys that have them right now get better and are able to play again soon.

The injuries and adversity arent going to keep the Bruins from throwing their best at the Flyers, and it should be a back to basics defensive effort after the Bs allowed 90 shots in the last two games without Chara.

Its a great challenge. Theyre playing extremely well and theyve won seven in a row, said Kelly. Theyve had injuries too, but theyve had guys stepping up and playing well for them. Itll be a big challenge.

After three straight wins over the Blue Jackets, Kings and Senators that constitute the mediocrity class in the NHL these days, the Bruins need something to pull that higher level out of them. Philadelphia should be exactly what the doctor ordered when the teams suit up for battle Saturday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love.

Top spot in the Eastern Conference is on the line, and neither team in the thriving rivalry should be budging an inch.