Hits were all that seemed to matter to the Flyers, some 40 years removed from earning their Broad Street Bullies nickname, as they chased the Bruins around TD Garden Saturday afternoon.
But the Bullies of the 1970s were a winning team.
These Flyers, the ones who produced 41 hits, zero goals, and left coach Peter Laviolette so disgusted he talked to a group of reporters for all of 77 seconds before walking off to the coaches room, are not.
The Bruins absorbed the hits, responded with goals, and sent the Flyers, now 11-14-1, home with a 3-0 loss.
“We just need to find a way to get out of this mess,’’ said Flyers forward Danny Briere.
The Bruins, who improved to 16-3-3, have been there, at the point where an identity can feel temporarily lost. Which is why it felt so much better Saturday, knowing that they have their identity, that they can make mistakes — as coach Claude Julien was quick to point out afterward — and lose the battle along the boards but win the hockey game.
“I don’t think [getting outhit] was a huge deal,’’ said Shawn Thornton. “The effort was still there.’’
It’s not that the Flyers were delivering dirty hits. In fact, Chris Kelly said they were all clean.
“When the hits are there, they’re there, but I don’t think we go out of the way to try to run someone,’’ Kelly said. “We don’t want to get caught out of position.’’
Against a Flyers team with the fifth-best power play in the NHL (24 for 103, 24.3 percent, entering the game), taking penalties was not an option.
The Bruins were still physical. That’s part of their game, too. But they didn’t let their desire for physicality cost them. They took just three minor penalties, and one was for having too many men on the ice.
“I thought the referees did a good job of letting the game be played,’’ Julien said.
On their way to getting outhit, 34-19, through two periods, the Bruins got a boost from Thornton, who decided he had enough of Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo.
Rinaldo, who came in ranked sixth in the league with 90 hits, ran over Johnny Boychuk. Thornton found Rinaldo seconds later and the two duked it out.
“It’s just reacting to the hit,’’ Thornton said. “I thought they were running around a little bit. I thought maybe I’d address it.’’
Thornton, who has 3 inches and 48 pounds on Rinaldo, connected with several uppercuts and finished with a haymaker to the back of the noggin.
Said Boychuk, “I think he won.’’
It was all the Bruins needed in the physicality department. The three goals were scored in a span of 138 seconds in the first period, and the Flyers chased the rest of the way.
Briere, one of just three Philadelphia players who didn’t join the hit parade, said the Flyers’ physicality wasn’t the right kind.
“There are two sides to being physical,’’ he explained. “There is obviously the hitting. But there’s also being physical winning battles. You can be physical to be first on the puck and win that battle. And that’s where we were lacking, I thought.’’