Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bruins manage to slip past furious Flyers in shootout

Philadelphia, PA -- There's no doubt that the Flyers wanted this one, and needed it, more than the Bruins.

The Orange and Black are jockeying with the Rangers for home ice advantage in the first round, and trying to erase the memory of an ugly 6-1 home loss to the Eastern Conference leaders back in late January.

Ultimately, Philadelphia did neither on Sunday afternoon, dropping a 4-3 spirited shootout decision to Atlantic Division champions Boston, who set a new franchise record with their ninth straight road victory.

Reilly Smith netted the winner in the fifth round of the breakaway round, while Tuukka Rask came up with 49 saves in regulation. Andrej Meszaros, Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron lit the lamp for the B's, who moved three points ahead of St. Louis for the top record in the NHL and upped their record to 15-1-1 in March.

"I don't think anybody could ever imagine this," Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. "It's been a real good month for us. If you check our schedule, we've had a lot of back-to-back games. That's where I give our guys a lot of credit."

Vincent Lecavalier scored twice, including his 400th career goal, and his tally with 24.1 seconds to go sent the game beyond regulation. Kimmo Timonen also hit the net and Jake Voracek added a pair of assists for the Flyers.

Steve Mason made 27 games in the first 65 minutes, but couldn't stop Smith's backhander at the left post to end the contest. Rask dove out and closed off the five hole to deny Voracek on the shot which opened the final segment. 

Nonetheless, with the Blues looming on Tuesday, the hosts improved to 6-2-1 during their challenging stretch of 12 games against the best teams in the league.

“I thought our team competed real hard,” Flyers head coach Craig Berube said. “They had an attitude today that they were going to go and show themselves and I thought that they did. I know the outcome wasn’t what we wanted but we attacked and had a lot of pucks on net. We competed hard. You’ve got to compete real hard against that team or you’re in trouble.”

Lecavalier opened the scoring with a wicked blast from below the circles off a dish from Adam Hall only 5:25 after the opening faceoff, but an old friend in Meszaros evened the score just after the midway point when he was allowed space up the slot and beat Mason through a screen with a high shot.

The hosts went to intermission up a goal. Voracek was walled off on the right wing, and made an inadvisable, but lucky backhand pass across the ice to a trailing Timonen, who hit the half-open net with 18 seconds remaining.

Chara tied things up again, only 11 seconds into a Hall hooking minor. He was allowed free rein at the left post, and scored with a backhander to the far pipe from in close at 5:44 of the second period. 

After each club failed to click on brief advantages, the Bruins emerged with a 3-2 lead, when Bergeron spun at the left circle near the boards and scored with a shot along the ice at 11:05.

"It shows a lot about our character and that guys that we have that we're able to pull this together," said Bergeron about the myriad players who went to Sochi but who came back and have fueled this late run. "We've all pulled together and we keep getting better."

The Flyers wasted 1:47 worth of a 5-on-3 after Dougie Hamilton and Chara were whistled for infractions inside the first 3 1/2 minutes of the third. Boston's penalty killers, without their captain, permitted one shot and blocked three others.

Carl Soderberg missed an open net from the left side as the clock ticked down inside of three minutes left in regulation, pushing the puck into Mason's arm with the upper quadrant of the cage free.

An extra attacker was summoned from the bench with 1:27 to play, and fortuitous bounces inside their offensive zone led to the tying goal. A failed clear by Loui Eriksson found its way to Voracek, who slid it across to Lecavalier with 24.1 seconds remaining.

Rask was forced to make eight saves in overtime, including an easy one when Brayden Schenn skated in alone with less than a minute showing.

“I think the guys worked extremely hard,” Mason said. “We had over 50 shots on net. It shows the kind of pressure we were putting on them for the majority of the game. Right now they’re the number-one team in the league, and the guys were going toe-to-toe with them.  It’s a good sign.”

There's only one chance for redemption after two losses to their New England rivals, back in Boston next Saturday afternoon. 

Notes: Lecavalier netted his 100th career goal, for the Tampa Bay Lightning, against the Flyers on Jan. 18, 2003 ...  His multi-goal effort was his second of the season and first since recording a hat trick on Long Island on Oct. 26 ... Rask won his 100th career NHL game with a season-high for saves in one contest, eclipsing his 43-save effort against the Rangers in a 2-1 win on Nov. 19 ... Claude Giroux was held without a point for just the third time in the month of March ...Bergeron's goal extended his scoring streak to seven games, only two off the Bruins' all-time record set by Phil Esposito ... The 52 shots were the most for Philadelphia since a 55-shot barrage at Winnipeg on Feb. 21, 2012 in a 5-4 overtime victory, and the most on home ice since peppering Nikolai Khabibulin with 55 shots in a 4-1 win on Jan. 28, 1997.

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