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Impact of Bruin bench deeply felt

Roster flexibility is giving them a leg up on Flyers

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / May 5, 2010

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WILMINGTON — As parts, the Bruins defensemen qualify as pedestrian.

At the start of the season, the coaching staff pegged Johnny Boychuk as the No. 7 defenseman, a designation the rookie endorsed. Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick, whose downswings coincided in the dark winter months, were so troublesome together that the Bruins couldn’t dress them as a pairing. Andrew Ference has been troubled by a groin tear that could rip apart on any shift. Adam McQuaid is a rookie who spent most of the year in Providence.

Yet the defense, still missing Mark Stuart and Dennis Seidenberg (once considered part of their top-four mix), has transformed into a greater-than-its-parts total, reflecting a teamwide depth advantage the Bruins carry over the Flyers into tonight’s Game 3 at the Wachovia Center.

“I’ve liked our depth as far as being able to move guys around,’’ coach Claude Julien said after yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “Even after power plays or penalty kills, you want to put some fresh guys on.

“You put different combinations together. I think that’s part of managing your bench at this time of the year, with the injuries and that kind of stuff that’s happened. You have to do that.’’

Up front, the Bruins absorbed the Game 1 loss of Marco Sturm (out for the year after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee). Julien slotted Daniel Paille into Sturm’s left-wing position next to Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. The best threesome in Game 2 was the No. 2 line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Miroslav Satan (two goals, including the game-winner). While the No. 3 line of Vladimir Sobotka, Marc Savard, and Michael Ryder was quiet in Monday’s 3-2 win at TD Garden, the Bruins got plenty of offensive heat from Shawn Thornton, Steve Begin, and Blake Wheeler.

Even right from the puck drop.

When Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette sent out Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, and Dan Carcillo for the opening draw — Mike Richards had taken every period-opening faceoff in Game 1 — Julien countered with his fourth-line thumpers, including Thornton, a healthy scratch for the series opener.

“I especially appreciated how the crowd reacted when they announced my name,’’ said Thornton, recipient of some of the loudest cheers when the starting lineup was introduced. “That doesn’t go unnoticed.

“I was pretty focused. But they were pretty loud. That always gets you going a little bit more, too. When you’re a healthy scratch, you’ve got to bring your best if you get your chance to get back in. That’s all I was trying to do.’’

Begin won the opening draw against Betts. Begin and Wheeler then won a puck battle off the wall for Thornton, who responded with a point-blank chance on Brian Boucher. Just 18 seconds into the night, the fourth line had set the tempo for their teammates to follow.

“It was an opportunity for Beg’s line to get it going [Monday] night,’’ Julien said. “And they did.’’

Through two games, the Bruins have gotten goals from forwards that have skated on all four lines (Begin, who netted the opener in Game 1, was filling in for Sturm on the top line when he beat Boucher in the first period).

Conversely, Richards and Danny Briere are the only forwards who have scored for the Flyers, who switched all four lines in Game 2.

Richards’s Game 2 goal took place during one of his few shifts where he hasn’t been smothered by Zdeno Chara. With the last change at home tonight and in Game 4, Laviolette might find it easier to double-shift Richards and get him away from Chara.

“We need other guys to step up. Absolutely,’’ said Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger. “It can’t be just those guys. We need to get contributions from everybody. The back end can chip in as we did in the first game. But certainly we need the other lines to chip in here and there as well.’’

Trouble is, the Flyers entered Round 2 missing three big-time components up front: Jeff Carter (a team-leading 33 goals, out with a broken foot), Simon Gagne (17 goals, broken foot), and Ian Laperriere (12:30 average ice time per game, concussion). Their absences have created a top-heavy lineup (Richards centering Carcillo and Scott Hartnell, Briere with Claude Giroux and Ville Leino in Game 2) that’s seen its production plummet when their top-six forwards aren’t on the ice.

At the same time, Philly’s dependence on its top two defensive pairings has allowed the Bruins to target Ryan Parent and Lukas Krajicek, the Flyers’ fifth and sixth defensemen. The Flyers were taxed late in Game 2 when they were whistled for two third-period penalties: delay of game and holding on Briere. The Bruins didn’t score on the power play, but kept the heat on the Flyers during both man-advantages, then kept giving it full gas following each penalty.

“That’s about momentum,’’ Julien said. “Certain things happen. You tell your power play, ‘Listen, we’re not going to score every time.’ But somehow, you’ve got to make sure it doesn’t become a negative situation.

“If you create chances and if you control the puck in their end and have some opportunities, it’s still a positive. When those things don’t really happen or if they do, your follow-up shift has to be a real big one. The guys that followed up after the power play did a pretty good job.

“I think that was important for us to keep the momentum. When you have a power play, you should have the momentum. After it’s done, you’ve got to find a way to keep it.’’

Tonight, momentum remains on the Bruins’ side.

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