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Bruins, Flyers square off in battle of East's best

It was Philadelphia that spoiled Boston's opening-night raising of its Stanley Cup banner and set the tone for the Bruins' horrid October.

Having turned things around over the past month and a half, the Bruins will look for a little payback against the streaking Flyers, who play their last game in Philadelphia this afternoon before next month's Winter Classic.

Boston ended Philadelphia's chances at a title last season with a second-round sweep en route to its first Stanley Cup title since 1972. The two clubs then squared off on opening night back on Oct. 6, with the Flyers notching a 2-1 road win.

That loss was the first for the Bruins in a 3-7-0 start to the season, but the defending champs have shaken off their championship hangover by going 17-2-1 since Nov. 1 and now sit two points back of the Flyers for first place in the Eastern Conference with 41 points. Both teams have 20 wins, so a regulation triumph by Boston this afternoon would give them solo possession of the conference's top spot.

The Bruins stretched their current win streak to three straight games on Wednesday with a 5-2 victory in Ottawa. Daniel Paille scored twice and Chris Kelly also lit the lamp to post his 200th career point. Rich Peverley and Patrice Bergeron added a goal and an assist and Tim Thomas stopped 47 shots.

Despite the three-goal victory, Boston head coach Claude Julien didn't feel like his team was the best on the ice.

"Eventually we saw a crack in the third period and we're able to take advantage," said Julien. "But, let's not kid ourselves here, we really didn't deserve to win this one here."

The Bruins have won eight of their last nine on the road overall and are 7-0-1 in their last eight at Philadelphia. They have played their last two games without defenseman Zdeno Chara due to a leg injury, but have allowed only two goals in that span.

Chara's return could come as soon as today. He practiced in full on Friday and the Bruins also sent fellow defenseman Steven Kampfer back to the minors.

While Boston knows it will get its 6-foot-9 defender back at some point, the Flyers announced during Thursday's game at Montreal that their bruising blueliner Chris Pronger will miss the rest of the regular season and playoffs due to severe post-concussion syndrome.

Pronger, who also suffered an eye injury this year and had knee surgery, notched a goal and 11 assists in 13 games.

Even as they lost their captain for the rest of 2011-12, the Flyers rebounded from blowing three one-goal leads to best the Canadiens 4-3. In addition to Pronger, the NHL's leading scorer Claude Giroux missed his second game in a row with a concussion.

"It was not an easy thing for the guys to know that Pronger would be gone for the season. But they competed and fought the whole game," said Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette. "Certainly, the news was not what you wanted. It's hard to replace a man for 26-27 minutes per game. We can move forward without Chris and Claude, but it's really going to be tough to remain in first place. We have to keep going."

Wayne Simmonds extended his career-best goal streak to four straight games, Matt Carle had three assists and Andrej Meszaros, Max Talbot and Harry Zolnierczyk added goals. Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots in his first start since Nov. 26 for Philadelphia, which with seven straight victories is on its longest win streak since claiming eight in a row from Jan. 6-19, 2002.

Following today's game, Philadelphia will embark on a five-game road swing leading up to the Winter Classic on Jan. 2. The Flyers begin their trip on Monday in Colorado.