The fans at the Wells Fargo Center, it’s fair to assume, were more concerned about the Flyers extending their long winning streak Tuesday night than catching the coronavirus.
Their concerns were warranted.
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In a game that could be a preview of the Eastern Conference finals, Tuukka Rask made 36 saves and notched his fifth shutout of the season and 50th of his career, keying Boston’s 2-0 victory and ending the Flyers’ nine-game winning streak.
The Flyers could have moved into first place in the Metropolitan Division for just the third time since the division was formed in 2013. They remained one point behind first-place Washington with 13 games remaining.
Because of coronavirus concerns, the city’s health department has recommended people avoid gatherings of more than 5,000 people, so it is unknown if the Flyers will play any future games without fans. They next play at the Wells Fargo Center, which was packed and lively Tuesday, on Saturday afternoon against Minnesota.
The Flyers outshot the Bruins, 36-29, but Rask was the difference.
“He’s one of the reasons they won the game,” Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said. “For two periods, I thought we were the better team. We had some real good opportunities to take a lead and couldn’t get anything past them. That goal they got at the end of the second period seemed to give them confidence because in the third period, they were the better team.”
Trailing 1-0, Ivan Provorov nearly scored the equalizer, but Rask made a right-pad save with 6 minutes, 25 seconds left in regulation.
“I liked our game,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said after the Flyers’ first loss since Feb. 15, a 5-3 defeat in Tampa, where they play on Thursday. “We just went on a heck of a run. We played pretty good hockey tonight. You could see how tight it’s going to be. ... Two tight-checking teams on the ice, and not a lot of free ice. That’s what the playoffs are like.
"It was a good test for us.”
Boston increased the lead to 2-0 when Patrice Bergeron scored on a blast from just inside the blue line with 5:20 remaining. Bergeron was guarded by defenseman Travis Sanheim, who had the puck deflect off his stick and sail past an unsuspecting Carter Hart.
With 1:21 left in the second period, the NHL-best Bruins took a 1-0 lead on defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s power-play goal, a drive from the center of the point that got past Hart (now 20-3-2 at home this season), who appeared screened.
Shortly before the goal, Scott Laughton and Kevin Hayes had a two-on-one shorthanded break. Laughton appeared to have a clear shooting lane, but made an ill-advised pass that was broken up by Charlie Coyle.
“It changed the momentum of the game,” Laughton said. “I’d like to have that one back.”
Rask, celebrating his 33rd birthday, was the reason the teams left the ice scoreless after the first period.
The Boston goalie stopped all 12 shots in the first, including a two-on-one in which he made a glove save to rob Travis Konecny, who took a perfect feed from Jake Voracek.
While shorthanded, the Flyers had another two-on-one early in the second period, but Hayes was denied by Rask.
With 11:21 left in the second, Rask stopped Justin Braun on a point-blank shot, and less than a minute later, he turned aside Claude Giroux on a three-on-two rush.
Midway through the second, the Flyers had a 20-9 shots domination, but Rask had all the answers.
“If we keep playing games like that,” said center Derek Grant, who led the Flyers with five shots, “we’re going to win a lot of hockey games.”
The Bruins’ David Pastrnak, who entered the night tied for the NHL lead with 48 goals, had two quality chances from the left circle in the second period, but was stopped by Hart.
The Flyers won a pair of shootouts (3-2 and 6-5) against the Bruins earlier in the season. They had four straight wins over Boston, their longest streak against the Bruins in franchise history.
Boston, which leads the NHL with 100 points, ended that streak, along with the Flyers’ overall nine-game run.