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A point of honor for Bruins

Tackling a badly needed home improvement project, the Bruins last night started by pouring a foundation that was equal parts spirit and gut-check.

The fact that it did not result in a win, but rather a 1-1 tie with the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers, was almost an afterthought to a group of Bruins who concede they had been embarrassed by Thursday night's 6-0 loss to the Maple Leafs, a defeat that had run their winless streak at the FleetCenter to three. The Flyers, riding a 12-1-3 stretch since Nov. 1 that gave them the league's best record, were a formidable foe, a fact that was hardly lost on the hosts.

``We have to get up for games like this - and we did,'' said Bruins captain Joe Thornton, whose only disappointment after 65 minutes of scintillating hockey was his overtime shot that he still can't believe didn't go in.

``I got a great pass from Muzz [Glen Murray], looked up, and saw an empty net,'' said Thornton. ``I don't know what happened.''

Jeff Hackett may have happened. Indeed, the same Jeff Hackett who manned the Boston net a year ago before choosing a more lucrative free agent deal from Philadelphia. Continuing his stellar play for the Flyers, Hackett went to the ice and moved with the play, and while he doesn't even know if he stopped the shot or if it simply hit the side of the net, there's no mystery about what transpired on most of Boston's other chances. Hackett made a season-high 38 saves - three in overtime - to help the Flyers salvage a point despite what may have been the Bruins' best end-to-end performance of the season. A number of developments in the game had coach Mike Sullivan smiling:

There was stellar goaltending as rookie Andrew Raycroft kicked out all but one of Philadelphia's 23 shots, a nifty score by Mark Recchi at 3:30 of the middle period.

There was solid play from the 29th-ranked penalty-killing unit as the Flyers, who entered the contest with the league's top power play - went 0 for 4 with a man advantage.

There was defense, most notably from Hal Gill.

There was the spiritual leadership - translation: enforcement - from Sandy McCarthy, who drew a penalty that led to the Boston goal and later took on Donald Brashear to liven up the FleetCenter gathering.

And most pleasing of all to Bruin loyalists, there was a goal from Sergei Samsonov. Finally.

All in all, it was well worth the nightmarish commute to get through the blizzard.

``I thought we really competed hard for 60 minutes,'' said Sullivan, who can be forgiven for not factoring in the five-minute extra period. Especially because Boston controlled the play there, just as it dominated the opening 20 minutes and most of the final period, too. His club had been outscored, 11-4, in its last three home games and three times they've been shut out at the FleetCenter, so this match with the Flyers carried perhaps more pressure than any of the previous 25 games.

``It was a critical game for us, for a number of reason,'' said Sullivan, who indicated that Samsonov's goal (making it 1-0 8:24 into the game) got the crowd into it.

Having gone 11 games without a goal, Samsonov put a puck onto Patrice Bergeron's stick and the rookie centerman took the play behind Hackett, moving right to left. Bergeron slid the puck through the crease and Samsonov, always moving, always ducking, was right there to slide it home. It was his sixth of the year, his first since Nov. 8, and just his first of the year on the power play.

``Sometimes you start guessing,'' said Samsonov, who concedes he wondered if he were doing the right things. Sullivan never did. Nor did Samsonov's teammates.

``He's been playing phenomenal,'' said Thornton.

And Sullivan was adamant that he hadn't lost a half-ounce of confidence in the flashy forward.

``His worth ethic is unmatched,'' said Sullivan. ``He's a true professional.''

So, too, is McCarthy, though what he brings to the Bruins is hardly comparable to what Samsonov provides. That is what defines this team game, the fact that they each realize what they are expected to do.

``We needed something to get going, to get the fans into it. More or less, I needed to get me into it,'' said McCarthy, who leveled defenseman Kim Johnsson just in front of Hackett and enjoyed it so much, he did it again seconds later right near the penalty box. It made for a short commute for Johnsson, because so agitated was the Flyer defenseman that he slashed McCarthy, a penalty that led to Samsonov's goal.

``I'm just playing hard. That's really what is asked of me,'' said McCarthy, who was on the ice for the faceoff right after Samsonov's goal and was more than obliged to square off with Brashear. Oh, old-time hockey guys will snarl, for the combatants danced a bit, then grappled, but Brashear threw a flurry of left hands (``My helmet is hurting,'' said McCarthy, smiling) and the Bruin enforcer couldn't do much damage, but the point was well taken. The crowd of 16,685 was very much into it and so were the Bruins.

``Sometimes,'' said McCarthy. ``it works.''

Most of what the Bruins did was working. They outshot the Flyers, 15-3, in the first and 16-7 over the final period and overtime. In between, the Flyers looked very much like the league's best team, one that presents a first line of Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte, and Recchi, lads who came into the game with 30 goals and 68 points among them. Yes, Recchi notched another one, No. 12 on the year and No. 442 in his brilliant career, though Raycroft took the blame. He felt he backed too far into the goal as Recchi beat Gill to the puck in the right circle and found the back of the net high to the left corner from an awkward angle.

``I didn't play it right,'' said Raycroft, but on this night, nobody wearing black and gold was about to complain.

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