BOSTON – The Boston Bruins were already looking forward to playing Philadelphia in the Winter Classic, a nationally televised game on New Year’s Day in historic Fenway Park.
Now it’s a grudge match, too. “The stage is set. I guess you can say that,” Philadelphia forward James van Riemsdyk said after the struggling Flyers beat Boston 3-1 on Monday night in a preview of the marquee outdoor matchup. “We’ve got a few games to go; it’s still a few weeks away. But it’s going to be cool.”
Kimmo Timonen broke a third-period tie with 9:32 left, then added a short-handed empty-netter to lead the Flyers. Timonen also assisted on van Riemsdyk’s goal with 17:12 to play.
Brian Boucher stopped 26 shots for the Flyers, who had lost 10 of 12 and entered the night tied for the second-fewest points in the NHL.
Vladimir Sobotka scored for Boston, and he also had a first-period goal negated by an early whistle. Tim Thomas, making just his fifth start in a month because of an undisclosed injury, made 35 saves for the Bruins.
“When teams are struggling and a number of points behind you, you want to keep them down,” Bruins forward Mark Recchi said. “They were a little bit more desperate than us. They looked like a team that wanted to get out of their doldrums, and we looked like a team that was content.
The longtime rivals are scheduled to meet again on Jan. 1 at Fenway in the third annual Winter Classic outdoor game. Some of the players visited the ballpark on Sunday and got in the mood: When they took the ice at the TD Garden for the pre-game skate Monday, both teams wore ski caps.
“We were all excited about it as it is,” Recchi said. “Hopefully, we’ll be better than we were tonight.”
Count van Riemsdyk among the most excited.
A New Jersey native who played at the University of New Hampshire, the last time van Riemsdyk played in the Boston Garden was in a triple-overtime conference playoff loss to Boston College. He’s also spent time at Fenway, sitting in the bleachers for a Red Sox game last summer.
“We got to go over there yesterday, a couple of guys,” he said. “We got to walk around. It’s going to be pretty cool. Those seats on the Monster will have a great view.”
Boston had a chance to tie it when Scott Hartnell hit Recchi in the face with his stick and gave Boston, which had pulled the goalie, a two-man advantage. But Timonen found the empty net from behind the faceoff circle in his own zone, clinching the victory.
“We needed a win. I thought the guys came out and played a heck of a third period,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “You hope you can build on it. We’ve got a long way to go. A big mountain to climb.”
Timonen had just two points in the previous eight games, a pair of assists against the Islanders last Tuesday. His last two-goal game was in 2007.
Monday’s game was hardly the classic the NHL is hoping for in its marquee regular-season game – at least for the first two periods, when Sobotka’s stuff shot about 2:30 into the game was the best scoring chance. The referee immediately waved it off, ruling he had blown the whistle before the puck crossed the line.
It remained scoreless until Sobotka deflected Shawn Thornton’s centring pass into the net with 1:28 left in the second. van Riemsdyk tied it for the Flyers on an odd-angle deflection with 2:48 gone in the third.
Timonen made it 2-1 with a shot from the blue line that was deflected on its way to the net, sailing over Thomas’ right shoulder as he held out his glove, never moving, to the left.
NOTES: Bruins defenceman Dennis Wideman left in the second period and did not return for the third. … The Bruins had won eight of 11, losing only once in regulation since Nov. 16. They had been 11-1 when scoring first. … Flyers forward Arron Asham played in his 600th NHL game.