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Season inching away from blanked Bruins

If they are to save the 2005-06 season, the Bruins know their margin of error in every contest is virtually nil.

Sure, their work ethic is much improved, their consistency is better, and they don't shoot themselves in the foot the way they did earlier in the season. But 39 games out of 82 are gone, and the Bruins are five below .500 at 14-19-6.

Yesterday, in a matinee against the Philadelphia Flyers at the TD Banknorth Garden, they proved that if hockey is a game of inches, for the Bruins right now it's more like a fraction of a millimeter.

They hit posts, the crossbar, and fired on net 27 times but it all added up to no goals in a 1-0 loss.

Five power-play opportunities went for naught, and coach Mike Sullivan estimated that his club generated 18 scoring chances -- not a small amount -- but the Bruins couldn't get anything past the Flyers' 25-year-old rookie goalie, Antero Niittymaki.

At the other end, Bruins rookie Hannu Toivonen had another strong outing with 20 saves.

The game's only goal came at 6:25 of the middle period, at even strength, with one first-year player setting up the other. It was 20-year-old center Jeff Carter converting a pass from 23-year-old R.J. Umberger. The two have 68 NHL games between them.

''We're playing really hard and we're doing everything we need to do, it's just not going," said Bruins defenseman Hal Gill. ''We're still battling the bounces a little bit but it's encouraging because we're right in the mix of this thing. Every game we're knocking on the door and it's not going to be long before we turn it around and start getting goals and start running away with games here."

For that to happen, said Sullivan, his players have to get the puck to the net more, particularly on the man advantage. In the first period, the Bruins had a five-on-three for 46 seconds but the closest they came to a goal was when Alexei Zhamnov hit the post.

In the final 10 seconds of the period, Brad Boyes hit the crossbar. Another great chance came halfway through the second period when Patrice Bergeron dished the puck to Boyes in the right circle. He tried to feed Sergei Samsonov, charging the net, but Samsonov couldn't handle the pass. Boyes blamed himself, saying it was a bad pass.

In the eighth minute of the third, Samsonov made a nice feed to Boyes in the slot but his shot to the blocker side was stopped by Niittymaki.

Boyes (team-high five shots) said he was incredibly frustrated at not being able to finish on the many opportunities he had.

''I personally think I outchanced [the Flyers] myself," he said. ''It's a game which we could've had, we should've won. The minimal chances that you get, you've got to put them in the net.

''There's a lot you can kind of look at. We hit posts, it was inches here or there. I thought we worked hard, we had chances, it's just a matter of bearing down on them.

''For me to get chances like I did today, you've got to put them in. There's no excuses not scoring those goals. That's what we're here for."

Toivonen said he was outplayed by his fellow Finn, Niittymaki, against whom he played in the Eastern Conference finals of the Calder Cup last season when he was with Providence and Niittymaki was with the Philadelphia Phantoms. The Phantoms won the series in six games.

''Niitty played an unbelievable game," said Toivonen, who along with Niittymaki is in contention to earn a spot on Finland's Olympic team. ''He stole the game. Unfortunately I wasn't able to make that one stop.

''We played a really good hockey game. Next time we have to score a couple of goals and we should be all right."

It doesn't get any easier. The Ottawa Senators come to town Thursday in the second game of Boston's seven-game homestand.

''We missed a lot of chances," said Bergeron. ''Too bad we missed those, because every game is a huge 2 points now and from now on. But we have to look forward, we have to go out there Thursday and get right back at it."

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