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Bruins 6, Flyers 0

Flying high

Behind four first-period goals, Bruins soar to first place in the East

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 18, 2011
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PHILADELPHIA - Yesterday at the Wells Fargo Center, just three shifts into his first game after missing two because of an injured left knee, Zdeno Chara was challenged.

Prior to a defensive-zone faceoff, Philadelphia tough guy Jody Shelley asked Chara to fight. Chara agreed. After both fighters landed punches, Chara scored the takedown at 2:13 of the first period. Shelley, who averages 4:42 of ice time per game, had taken the Boston strongman out for five minutes.

Thirty-seven seconds later, Daniel Paille scored the second of Boston’s six goals.

“What he did at the beginning, it may not be the best tradeoff,’’ coach Claude Julien said of Chara after yesterday’s 6-0 thumping of the Flyers. “But sometimes you’ve got to look at what else it does. He got challenged by their guy, who’s trying to set the tone for his team. It worked the other way. Shelley gave us a reason to be even more prepared to play and more motivated.’’

With the blanking of the Flyers, the Bruins are in first place in the Eastern Conference. They halted the Flyers’ seven-game winning streak while stretching their own to four. They chased a leaky Ilya Bryzgalov from the crease after the Philadelphia netminder let in five goals. Tim Thomas stopped 31 shots to record his 30th career shutout. After two previous wins in which they allowed 40-plus shots, the Bruins tightened things down and executed their game plan efficiently.

Best of all, their captain is back. Chara recorded a Gordie Howe hat trick with his fight, a first-period goal, and a second-period assist. In 23:39 of ice time, he landed four shots on goal and dished out three hits.

“He was good. He was solid,’’ Julien said of Chara. “As much as we missed him, it was a good rest for him, playing the minutes he does. He seemed fresh. He seemed excited to play.’’

The Bruins entered yesterday’s first-place showdown with something to prove. It wasn’t about showing that they could play with the Flyers. They knew they could.

Instead, it was about fixing their game, which had slipped despite the points they have been racking up since November. On Tuesday against Los Angeles, Tuukka Rask was far too busy fending off a 41-shot barrage. The following night against Ottawa, similar defensive slackness forced Thomas to turn back 47 pucks.

Despite yesterday’s one-sided score, Thomas was busy again. But the Bruins limited the Flyers to one-and-done chances instead of the wave-after-wave flurries Thomas faced against the Senators.

“He needed to battle,’’ Julien said. “Although they didn’t score, they had a lot of pucks in the crease area. They do a very good job of throwing them there, battling away, and scoring some goals. But he was good. He stood tall. He stood in the battle and made some big saves. He never gave them a chance to get any life.’’

The Bruins kicked the Flyers in the gut on the opening shift. As Rich Peverley gained the offensive zone, Benoit Pouliot barreled toward the net. Pouliot redirected Peverley’s pass past Bryzgalov at 0:27. Then came Paille’s goal off a rebound, his third in the last two games. Chara ripped a power-play slapper past Bryzgalov at 8:08 of the first. Milan Lucic capped a four-goal first-period flurry by tipping a Joe Corvo slap pass into the net at 17:10.

When Nathan Horton tucked in the rebound of a Chara slapper at 7:06 of the second, Bryzgalov’s day was over, having stopped only 15 of 20 shots.

“This was probably just a tough night on their part,’’ Julien said of the Flyers. “We got the early goal. It just seemed to snowball. Eventually it becomes frustration. We know how good a team they are. We came in here, we played well, they had a tough night. That’s the end of the story.’’

As expected of a lopsided match between two tough clubs, tempers flared throughout. At 17:48 of the first, Scott Hartnell flattened Brad Marchand in open ice. Johnny Boychuk came calling and the two squared off. Boychuk was called for instigating, fighting, and a 10-minute misconduct.

At 16:21 of the second, Lucic tagged Zac Rinaldo from behind, and was tossed. Rinaldo squared off with Horton.

In the third, Rinaldo and Marchand were given separate 10-minute misconducts as referees Stephane Auger and Dan O’Halloran tried to keep the game from boiling over.

The Bruins are 18-2-1 in their last 21 games. Aside from a foot injury to Gregory Campbell, they are at full health. Their goaltenders have the net on lockdown like they’re protecting Coke’s secret formula. As stingy as they are defensively, the Bruins are just as ruthless at the other end. When things get rough, they’re quick to shed the gloves.

When they’re playing like this, there aren’t many teams that want to skate with the Bruins.

“I think it was just another win for us,’’ Paille said. “We wanted a better start than the last game. We showed it with the first shift, getting that goal. It was two teams on a roll. Someone had to lose.’’

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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