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BRUINS 4, FLYERS 3

It's Bruins who are flying high in Philly

PHILADELPHIA -- You remember these guys, right? Black and gold uniforms, spoked-B on the front. Knock around a black chunk of rubber with sticks? Well, while Boston's fandom has been awash in Patriotic afterglow and agonizing over A-Rod, its forgotten old flame has blazed back to life.

The Bruins, who've been away from Fleet Street for more than two weeks, posted their second straight victory over a divisional leader last night, grounding the Flyers, 4-3, before a dismayed capacity crowd of 19,577 at Wachovia Center.

It was Boston's eighth victory in its last 11 games, the last six of which have been on the road, and it came with four players scoring (including Hal Gill and Rob Zamuner) and Felix Potvin in the net.

"It's huge," declared coach Mike Sullivan, after his men had held off a furious Philly flurry in the waning seconds to beat the Flyers here for the first time in two years and move into second place alongside Ottawa, 1 point behind Toronto in the Northeast Division. "At this point in the season, all the players are aware of who's where in the standings. It seems every game we go into is a big game."

This one was particularly important, because it was a winnable road game that the Bruins managed to win. The Flyers may be atop the Atlantic Division, but they'd just been blown out twice on 5-2 counts by San Jose and Tampa Bay and were missing star centers Jeremy Roenick (broken jaw) and Keith Primeau (concussion).

"When you lose, it's frustrating," acknowledged Flyers goalie Sean Burke, who was brought in from Phoenix as a 37-year-old blowout patch after Robert Esche went down with a sprained knee. "This team was rolling along and getting wins and picking up points."

The Bruins, meanwhile, arrived here fresh off a 5-2 flogging of the Maple Leafs and had taken at least a point in 10 straight games. So Sullivan was irked to see his squad give up a goal to Simon Gagne just 15 seconds after defenseman Gill (his second goal) had bounced one past Burke just four minutes into the game. "We didn't have the start we wanted," he conceded.

But Boston had a splendid middle, outshooting Philadelphia, 20-4, in the second period and getting a spectacular goal from rookie Patrice Bergeron, who transformed a turnover inside his own blue line into a lovely rush and an unassisted short-side goal that put his mates up, 3-2, after Zamuner and John LeClair had exchanged tallies five minutes apart in the first period. "It's not usually my kind of goal," shrugged the 18-year-old Bergeron, who's now potted 16 of them and was awarded the night's first star after also assisting on the fourth goal. "But I'm happy with it."

So were his comrades, who poured 41 shots on Burke yet found themselves only up one goal after 40 minutes. But they kept plugging, and got their reward when Glen Murray (his 25th) rammed home a Joe Thornton rebound 31 seconds into the final period with only one second remaining on a power play.

"To come out and be able to score like that," mused Sullivan. "The beginning of periods, the end of periods are big momentum things."

As it turned out, that goal was the winner, once LeClair popped his second past Potvin (24 saves) with 4:37 to play. These Flyers may be in a tailspin, but they haven't piled up 78 points (tied for most in the conference) by playing 55 minutes a night.

So the pressure was on the Broons to keep 2 points from dwindling to 1. There was a time when they would have coughed up the puck, left a check unfinished, made a bad decision in a dangerous place. But that time was back in December, when the players were worried more about owner Jeremy Jacobs than their rivals. "When we get in a 4-3 game now with five minutes to go, we have the confidence to get the job done," said Brian Rolston.

Not that there weren't a few hairy moments during the final 30 seconds, with Burke out of the net, the Flyers buzzing the Boston end, and the puck bouncing loose in the scrum. But when the horn sounded, the team that Boston forgot had posted another W on a ledger that's getting lopsided with them and was off to Carolina in search of another 2 points tomorrow night. Maybe the Mayor will arrange for a homecoming float Monday -- or at least a motorcycle escort from Logan.

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