Bruins in tight race as Flyers set to visit

BOSTON -- If one can borrow a popular phrase for the weekend, the Boston Bruins, despite winning nine of their first 12 games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, find themselves squarely on the playoff bubble as they host the fading Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

Hoping to end a two-year run of failing to make the playoffs, and reacting well to the firing of Claude Julien and the hiring of his replacement, Boston starts play Saturday two points ahead of Toronto in the Atlantic Division, with the Maple Leafs holding a game in hand.

But that's not the only problem -- the surging New York Islanders hold down the second wild card and have one fewer point than the Bruins with a game in hand.

"I want this team to feel they can win every night," said Cassidy, who is 6-1 at home after Wednesday night's 6-1 hammering of the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden. "I don't want them to be cocky, but they should be confident. They have to be."

The Bruins should be confident, because their best players have been outstanding. Brad Marchand has seven goals in seven games, 15 in the last 17 and 22 in the last 26. The top two centers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, have been on fire under Cassidy, and David Pastrnak has a seven-game points streak. Newcomer Drew Stafford has three points in three games.

Toss in Tuukka Rask's 31 wins in goal and a defense that has started scoring under the new coach and you have a 9-3 record.

The Flyers have been riding a roller coaster all season and Thursday's loss in Toronto left them 5-7-2 in their last 14 games -- not the kind of second-half run that leads to the playoffs. They open play Saturday five points behind the Islanders for the second wild card while also trailing Toronto and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"We just have to turn the page and focus on Boston," Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol said after Thursday night's loss. "... You have to make sure you're able to be clear-minded and get back and do a little bit better job the next time out, because the next points become even more critical."

The Bruins, who open a four-game trip in Vancouver on Monday night, have taken three of a possible four points from their longtime rival this season -- the Flyers winning 3-2 in a shootout in Philadelphia and Boston scoring a 6-3 home win on Jan. 14. Marchand had two goals and three assists in that game.

Rask is 6-2-3 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .933 save percentage lifetime against the Flyers. Steve Mason, passed over for Thursday's game in Toronto and up and down like his team, is 6-2-3 with a .226 GAA and .933 save percentage against Boston. He starts Saturday.

Already missing Ryan Spooner because of a concussion, the Bruins, who had been 100 percent healthy until this week, lost Tim Schaller to a lower-body injury Wednesday. Neither was at practice Friday.

The home surge under Cassidy reverses what had been a problem for Boston, which struggled to stay at or near .500 at TD Garden through much of the season.

"We've been playing well here for a little while now," said defenseman Torey Krug. "Our record is starting to separate wins and losses here at home, and if we can take another step forward (Saturday), it would be huge."

Boston plays three games in four nights out west and then ends the trip with an important game at Toronto on March 20.
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