BOSTON – The Philadelphia Flyers had a strong second period and an even better third. Now they just have to work on their start and finish.
The Boston Bruins dominated the first period and attacked early in overtime in the opener of the Eastern Conference semifinal. That energy – and Marc Savard’s winning goal in his first game in seven weeks – gave them a 5-4 victory Saturday.
“They came hard in the third period, but we obviously didn’t let that stop us,” Boston forward Daniel Paille said Sunday. “We came out strong and having, obviously, Savvy scoring that for us is definitely a momentum shifter.”
Savard played his first game since March 7 when he suffered a Grade 2 concussion from a blindside hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Coach Claude Julien limited Savard’s shifts Saturday and he felt strong as the game went on.
The Flyers were sloppy at the start. So one of their major goals in Monday night’s second game of the best-of-seven series is being sharp from the opening faceoff.
“Our start is going to be critical,” forward Danny Briere said. “We looked shaky with the puck. We weren’t moving our legs. We weren’t good on the forecheck. Maybe being away from the competitive game for over a week hurt us a little bit, but we battled back. … That’s what we try to take positive out of that game.”
The Flyers went eight days without a game after eliminating the New Jersey Devils in five games. The Bruins had four days off after their six-game victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
Savard used that time to build his conditioning and return to full-scale practice. But now the Bruins must go on without another top offensive player. Left wing Marco Sturm, who led them with 22 goals this season, tore ligaments in his right knee about 25 seconds into Saturday’s game after throwing a check at Matt Carle.
Sturm faces surgery in four to six weeks and is expected to need about six months to recover after the operation, which would sideline him at the beginning of next season.
“He’s fast and he’s competitive,” right wing Mark Recchi said. “We’ll miss him. We missed him (Saturday). He’s a terrific player and it’s tough to see.”
But Sturm had struggled offensively in the playoffs without a goal and an assist.
“They’ve still got some great forwards up there, dangerous guys,” Flyers defenceman Braydon Coburn said. “That doesn’t change anything for us.”
They still have to throw shots at the net and get traffic in front of goalie Tuukka Rask. They must forecheck better and keep the Bruins from getting second chances in front of goalie Brian Boucher.
They must do it without Jeff Carter, their top goal scorer. He’s recovering from foot surgery. The Flyers also are missing Simon Gagne, out indefinitely with a broken toe, and Ian Laperriere, sidelined with a concussion.
That may give Boston a chance to take advantage of fatigue if Philadelphia forwards play more than usual.
“We’ve got to keep focusing on what we need to do,” Julien said. “If there’s a time that we feel we can exploit it, so be it. But the guys that are playing a lot of minutes for them, I’m sure are used to it by now.”
No one could have been very tired when Boston’s Steve Begin scored the first goal Saturday. There was just 2:39 gone in the game.
Patrice Bergeron’s goal made it 2-0 after one period in which the Bruins outshot the Flyers 15-8.
“Knowing that it was in their building, we hadn’t played in a while and they were going to come out strong, I thought we probably could have done a little better job,” Briere said.
Then the momentum shifted. The Flyers held shooting advantages of 11-6 in the second period and 13-10 in the third.
“We need to do a little better job in the neutral zone,” said Boston’s Dennis Wideman, who had three assists. “We started backing off a little bit and got caught a little stagnant and they danced through us pretty easily there when they started to get most of their offensive chances.”
The Flyers rallied from deficits of 3-1 and 4-2, tying the game with 3:22 left in the third when Briere skated between defencemen Wideman and Matt Hunwick in front of Rask.
The goalie stopped the first shot, but Briere scored on the rebound.
“Danny’s played his best hockey at the end of the year,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said.
But the Bruins seized the momentum in overtime, outshooting the Flyers 15-4. By Laviolette’s count, Boston hadabout five good scoring chances in the first four minutes.
“The way they took it to us, I think we were all surprised,” Boucher said. “They were hungry.”
The Flyers weathered that early attack, then made Rask stop a few solid bids before Savard finished them off. He scored on a quick shot from Boucher’s left, then scampered to the other side of the rink with a huge smile and flipped his stick into the cheering crowd.
“We know we can do it in those tough situations,” Savard said. “I think that bodes well for us down the stretch.”