Bruins top falling Flyers

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BOSTON – The Philadelphia Flyers hit the midway point of the season on Saturday at TD Banknorth Garden with a predictable thud.

They lost in disturbing fashion to the Boston Bruins, 4-3. In the final minute, they couldn’t get the puck out of their own end, goalie Robert Esche off the ice or any fresh bodies onto the ice.

After 41 games, coach John Stevens’ club is dead last in the NHL with 26 points. Last season at the halfway mark, the Flyers were No. 1 in the league with 60 points.

“It’s definitely a big turnaround,” said defenseman Derian Hatcher. “I didn’t even realize that. That’s pretty drastic. Something’s happened here. But with that said, that’s the reality.”

The difference in this one was Boston had two power-play goals, and the Flyers were 0 for 6 on the power play. The Bruins’ precise passes and setups were a stark contrast to the Flyers’ inability to even gain the zone at times.

Leading, 3-2, Boston iced the victory at 2 minutes, 21 sec onds of the third period with its last power-play goal. It resulted from three crisp passes that caught the Flyers in an overshift and ended with Marc Savard’s second goal of the game.

“Our execution was not very good,” Stevens said. “It’s execution on your power play. Move it quick and crisp and the little intangible things like coming up with loose pucks. They move it around, and Savard makes a living on finding people with that puck. That clearly was the difference.”

At even strength, Joni Pitkanen, Alexandre Picard, Ryan Potulny and Ben Eager, all had quality scoring chances. But Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (30 saves) was outstanding.

With 2:27 to play, Esche was pulled for an extra skater, and Mike Knuble scored his 17th goal. Yet in the final minute, the Flyers’ had five players trapped on the ice and never got a chance to get the game into overtime.

“We didn’t seem very organized there,” Hatcher said. “We basically could not get out of the zone the whole last minute. I got off with 35 seconds left. We just looked very disorganized.”

After the lackluster effort against the New York Rangers on Thursday, Stevens changed all four lines against Boston. He also moved Pitkanen away from defensive partner Alexei Zhitnik and paired the Finn with Hatcher. That way, Zhitnik could play the right side, where he’s more comfortable.

Things started well for the Flyers. Sami Kapanen stripped Paul Mara of the puck at the left point early on a Bruin power play and scored his second shorthanded goal of the season for a 1-0 lead. Boston, however, scored twice just 30 seconds apart to take a 2-1 lead.

Esche made a nice stop on Matt Lashoff’s point drive only to have Savard retrieve it behind the net and throw the puck off Esche’s left pad into the net at 12:28 of the first period.

Glen Murray’s 20th goal of the season was nothing short of dazzling setup work. P.J. Axelsson chipped a puck off the left bo)ards to Savard, and he backhanded it quickly into the slot for Murray. Esche had no chance.

The one Esche should have stopped was Patrice Bergeron’s slapper from the left circle during a Bruins’ power play in the period’s waning minutes. He didn’t, and it was 3-1 after 20 minutes.

The Flyers’ ineptitude on a power play in the early minutes of the second period was glaring. They turned the puck over three times. The absence of Peter Forsberg, out with a groin pull, was evident.

“We had the chances,” Hatcher said.

After that power play expired, however, Kapanen got the Flyers back into the game with a shot that dinged off the crossbar and went in. R.J. Umberger applied pressure on Bruins defenseman Milan Jurcina in the right corner, forcing a turnover to Kapanen, who swung into the slot and roofed the puck, cutting the Flyers’ deficit to 3-2 at 5:17.

Yet the Flyers failed on three power plays in the final period that could have been the difference.

“It’s getting to the point where we give up a couple power play goals, and it’s a two-goal difference in the score,” Kapanen said. “It hasn’t been good enough for us lately. We need to find a way to win games … We just keep falling behind in the standings.”

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