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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Flyers, Thursday January 13th

The Bruins (23-12-7) will have their hands full this evening, as they host the East’s top team, the Philadelphia Flyers (27-10-5) at TD Garden.

Boston’s offense and defense was unmatched Tuesday night, shutting down the lowly Senators and exploding for six goals, beating Ottawa handily, 6-0. Patrice Bergeron, now the team’s points leader with 32, had his first career hat trick in the game, and Tim Thomas stopped every shot he saw, on his way to his sixth shutout of the season, which sets a new career high.

Philly just keeps on winning hockey games, plain and simple. They haven’t lost yet in 2011, winning their last four straight. They currently have a one-point advantage in the standings over Pittsburgh for the top spot in both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.

Off we go with another round of pre-game notes, to get you ready for tonight’s pivotal contest between two of the East’s hottest teams…

- Tonight marks the third of four meetings this season for the B’s and Flyers. Each team has won once on the other team’s ice, with Boston shutting out Philly 3-0 on 12/1, followed a few days later by a 2-1 overtime win by the Flyers in Boston on 12/11.

- The Bruins have earned at least one point in nine of their last 10 games, going 6-1-3 during that stretch. With Montreal losing last night to Pittsburgh, the B’s remain two points ahead of the Habs atop the Northeast Division, with two games in hand.

- It appears as though the Bruins will be without the services of winger Milan Lucic again this evening. Lucic injured himself late in Monday’s win over the Penguins, and missed his first game of the season in Tuesday’s win over Ottawa. Lucic, sidelined with what the team is calling an “upper-body injury,” did not participate in the team’s morning skate today, indicating that Lucic, the team’s leading goal scorer, will more than likely be out of action tonight.

- A bit of good news though, on the injury front… Mark Stuart, out for the last month with a broken right ring finger, did join the team for this morning’s skate for the first time since the injury. Stuart is still at least a week away from returning to the lineup.

- As for Philly’s injury situation, they’ll be missing defensemen Chris Pronger (broken foot) and Matt Walker (hip) tonight, with forward Nikolay Zherdev (strained groin) listed as questionable.

- Patrice Bergeron, who has five goals and three assists in his last four games, won’t be the only red-hot forward on the ice tonight. Philadelphia’s Danny Briere also has eight points in his last four games, with four goals and four assists during the team’s four-game win streak. Briere was one of the many “snubs” left off the recently announced NHL All-Star roster.

- Speaking of All-Stars, the Flyers, once again the top team in the Eastern Conference, will only be sending one player to Raleigh for the All-Star festivities. That one player? Winger Claude Giroux, who ranks third on the team in points (16G, 20A). Briere, with his 22 goals and 15 assists ranks second, while center Mike Richards owns the top spot in the team’s points race, with 14 goals and 24 assists.

- The Flyers also boast the league leader in one of hockey’s underrated statistics, plus/minus. Defenseman Andrej Meszaros leads the way with an impressive +27 mark. Teammate Ville Leino is also near the top of the ranks, sitting in third with a +22 rating.

- Goaltenders for Philadelphia include youngster Sergei Bobrovsky (16-6-3, 2.55GAA) and Brian Boucher (10-4-2, 2.23GAA). Early indications point to Boucher getting the start this evening.

- The stingy Boston defense will have their hands full with the Flyers tonight, as Philly ranks third in the NHL in goals per game at 3.36. Boston meanwhile, gives up the fewest goals per game, at 2.10. The B’s are one of just two teams left in the league that haven’t given up 100 goals this season. Boston has let in 93, while the surprising Nashville Predators have only given up 98.

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