WILMINGTON, Mass. — The Boston Bruins will play their 50th game of the season Saturday, so it’s kind of hard to believe it will be their first meeting with the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Bruins-Flyers rivalry dates back a long time and has only intensified in recent years. In just the last half of a decade or so, the teams have met twice in the playoffs — including Philly’s historic comeback in 2010 — and in the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park. So it’s a bit odd that they won’t write the latest chapter in the rivalry until this late in the season.
That’s in part because of the new NHL realignment and accompanying schedule. The Bruins have yet to face Eastern Conference foe Washington and only have played longtime rival Montreal once. The Bruins are more than ready to get back to revisiting those rivalries.
“It is a little odd that it’s taken this long to play Philly,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said Friday after practice. “With Philly, there’s some history there obviously having played them twice in the playoffs and in the Winter Classic as well. The teams are pretty good reflections of the cities, and when they get together it’s always a battle. They’ve been playing really, really good since the coaching change, so they’re back in the playoff picture.”
The Bruins and Flyers will meet three times before season’s end. That presents the chance for things to get even more contested than normal, as the Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins showed with three meetings in Boston’s first 29 games.
“I think it creates a little bit of in-season rivalry,” Lucic said. “It just creates that rivalry and that mini-series going right back at a team after you faced them. It makes for more heated hockey.”
Saturday’s matchup will offer the Bruins a look at a Flyers team that has had an interesting season so far. The Flyers waited just three games before firing Peter Laviolette on Oct. 7 and handing the reins to Craig Berube. Philly has responded by going 25-18-6 and now is battling for one of the East’s two wild-card spots. The Flyers entered Friday’s play holding that second wild card, but five teams were within four points of Philly.
“[The Flyers are] just playing better,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “You’ve got a coach that worked under another coach, and I don’t think they’ve changed a ton. But there’s no doubt they’re playing better. They were off to a tough start and a bad start, and a lot of times that’s what ends up happening, the coach ends up being the guy losing his job. But they haven’t made changes player-wise and they weren’t great right off the bat. They’ve just gotten better and better, and with time, that team’s been playing a lot better than they were in the beginning of the year.”
The Flyers’ turnaround also has coincided with improved play from forward and captain Claude Giroux, who was held pointless through his first five games of the season and didn’t score a goal until his 16th contest. Since Dec. 12, though, Giroux has scored nine goals and added 16 assists. Philly’s record since Dec. 12 is 12-6-3.
“You see a guy like Giroux, their captain, he’s found his game again,” Lucic said. “When he has his games, he’s a pretty scary player.”
Saturday’s matchup also will be a return to work for the Bruins, who will have had four full days in between games. That stretch also includes two days without practice.