PHILADELPHIA — Six weeks into the season, the Flyers and Bruins are looking like a pair of teams who could battle it out for one of the two wild card playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.
They'll battle it out for the first time this season Tuesday night when the Bruins visit South Philadelphia.
“We've got to scratch and claw every night right now,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol told the Philadelphia Inquirer of his 10-10-3 team. “We're a .500 hockey team and it seems like we've talked about that quite a lot. We can keep talking about it, or we can worry about doing something about it.”
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The Flyers will play eight games in the next 13 days and 13 games in the 24-day stretch leading up to their Christmas break. They are looking to string together their first two-game win streak since early November when they won three straight.
“This is a critical stretch between now and the Christmas break,” Hakstol said. “That's about as big picture as I want to get, and we absolutely have to narrow it down a lot further than that — right down to the points that are available against Boston.”
The Bruins (12-10-0) are coming off Sunday's 4-1 home win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, which snapped a three-game losing streak. Forward Jimmy Hayes recorded his first point in 36 games with his first goal since Feb. 24.
He was so relieved by the goal that he threw an imaginary monkey off his back in celebration.
“It was more of a joke that it was an elephant,” Hayes told CSN New England. “I think I lost about a hundred pounds there.”
The four goals against the Lightning matched the total the Bruins had scored during their three-game losing streak.
Goaltender Tuukka Rask came within 2:39 of a shutout in the win, stopping 30 shots to improve his record to 12-4-0 and lower his GAA to 1.63.
Tuukka has had to keep the Bruins afloat this season because of a shortage of offense. Aside from the top-line forwards David Patrnak (team-high 13 goals, 17 points) and Brad Marchand (six goals, 19 points) the Bruins have struggled to produce this season, ranking 20th with 52 goals. Through 19 games Patrice Bergeron has just three goals and three assists.
The Flyers have had no trouble putting up goals. They rank second behind the Rangers with 72 goals, led by Wayne Simmonds (11) and Jakub Voracek (eight).
But they've allowed an NHL-worst 76 goals, including three by rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz in a 5-3 win Sunday night against the Calgary Flames.
The Flyers allowed the first goal in that game and have scored first in just eight of their 23 games. They are 5-1-2 when scoring first and 5-9-1 when they don't.
Goaltender Steve Mason (5-8-3, 3.04) is expected to return to action Tuesday night. He's lost three of his last four starts and is 2-3-1 since Michael Neuvirth suffered a knee sprain.
The Bruins could be without a pair of veteran defensemen against the Flyers.
Zdeno Chara has missed the past three games with a lower body injury and is not expected to play Tuesday night. Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles left Sunday's game with an upper-body injury after sliding head first into the end boards. He's questionable for Tuesday and if he cannot play the Bruins likely will recall a defenseman from AHL Providence.