Bruins beat Flyers, clinch No. 1 seed in Eastern Conference
Coming off losses in their last two games, the Bruins were just focused on playing better against the Flyers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. Boston (53-18-7) beat Philadelphia (39-29-9), 5-2, to sweep the season series (3-0) and clinch the top spot in the Eastern Conference. With four games remaining in the regular season, the last goal for the B’s to accomplish before the playoffs start is to capture an elusive Presidents’ Trophy (most points in the NHL). They are up two points on St. Louis but the Blues have one game in hand. This contest was actually tied at two with less than seven minutes left before Boston exploded for two goals then an empty-netter.
Loui Eriksson had his best game in a Bruins uniform with a career-high four assists along with plus-3, seven shots on goal, one takeaway and one blocked shot.
“I have such smart players to be on a line with and the Olympics (Team Sweden) really helped me,” Eriksson said.
The most impressive part about Eriksson’s performance is that he’s played on three different lines in the last few games due to injuries.
“Loui is a smart player,” said head coach Claude Julien, “you’re starting to see how important that part of his game is. He adapts to any line and he’s been a great asset to have.”
On Saturday he got to skate with Milan Lucic (2 goals, 1 assist) and David Krejci (1 goal, 1 assist) after Jarome Iginla missed his second game (in the last three) with a lower body injury.
Krejci opened the scoring after a scramble in front of Flyers goaltender Ray Emery (37 saves), he roofed the rebound late in the first period. Philadelphia tied it late in the second period on a power play-goal from Wayne Simmonds that he put in from a tough angle past Tuukka Rask (24 saves). That set off a flurry of goals as Lucic blasted a one-timer 19 seconds later and less than 90 seconds after that Flyers enforcer Jay Rosehill (who earlier fought Shawn Thornton) scored only his fifth career goal.
Johnny Boychuk scored the go-ahead goal for Boston on a patented slap shot from the point then Lucic tipped one in following a beautiful passing sequence with Torey Krug and Eriksson. Chris Kelly’s empty netter capped off an exciting tilt.
What they’ll be saying: The Bruins want to avoid the Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs but I can confidently say that they match up better with the Flyers. If the postseason started today, Philadelphia would be the No. 6 seed and they’d face Tampa Bay. However, they are only two points ahead of Columbus (they’ve both played 77 games). I think the Flyers usually bring out the best in the Bruins because they play such similar physical styles. It also helps that Rask is far superior to whichever goaltender Philly uses (Emery or usual starter Steve Mason). Also, the Flyers’ defensive system is nowhere close to Boston since they’ve allowed 51 more goals in only one additional game.
Before the game, Bruins rookie forward Reilly Smith was named the winner of NESN’s Seventh Player Award. Fans voted online for the Bruin that they felt most exceeded expectations this season. It’s easy to forget since he hasn’t scored since March 17 vs. Minnesota but on the whole, Smith has been very good at the age of 23 on a new team. He has 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) which is fifth most on the team. Julien has mostly stuck with him on the second line (with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand) but at some point, he could be demoted to the third line or even a healthy scratch in one of these last four games to regroup physically and mentally before the postseason.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate