Pronger/By S. Bradley

Bruins brass probably has nightmares every night about trying to make it through a long stretch of games without No. 1 defenseman Zdeno Chara.

Chara has missed just nine games — none this season — since joining the Bruins in  July 2006.

However, there’s a chance the Bruins’ depth could keep them afloat the way Philadelphia’s has this season without Chris Pronger.

The perennial All-Star blueliner is currently in the midst of a second lengthy injury absence this season, as he hasn’t played since March 8. The Flyers are 4-0-4 since he exited the lineup this time, as they enter tonight’s home game against the Bruins. And they’re 14-5-5 on the season without their minutes-munching veteran.

As Sam Carchidi of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes:

More minutes doesn’t always translate into more production. In the Flyers’ case, it has.

Surprisingly, the Flyers entered Saturday with a slightly higher points percentage without Pronger in the lineup than with him. That’s a tribute to the defense, especially Andrej Meszaros, Braydon Coburn, Kimmo Timonen, and Matt Carle, the current Core Four.

As Carchidi points out, Meszaros is the biggest surprise in that group. He has bounced back from a terrible year in Tampa last season with 26 points and a plus-27 rating this year with the Flyers. His ability to move up from the third pair has lessened the blow of Pronger’s absence.

Would the Bruins be able to move up a third-pair blueliner and have that player contribute the way Meszaros has? Well, Adam McQuaid is currently on the third pair. The rookie has been among the league leaders in plus/minus for months and even led the league for a short time last month. Andrew Ference has also shown that he can handle top-four minutes over brief stretches. As far as making up for Chara’s minutes, it remains to be seen what Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk and Tomas Kaberle would do with an added workload. The Bruins are praying they never have to find out what would happen.

The Flyers also have veterans like Sean O’Donnell and Nick Boynton to take up the third-pair minutes and not hurt the club’s cause. If you remove one of Boston’s top four, never mind if it was Chara, the Bruins would have to turn to a suddenly-mistake-prone rookie, Steven Kampfer, or a veteran who hasn’t played all season long, Shane Hnidy.

That depth on the back end is one of the subtle differences between the Flyers and Bruins, and a reason the Flyers have been on top of the Eastern Conference for much of this season. Of course, the Bruins have beaten the Flyers twice in three meetings and could very well defeat them in a long series. The depth on D might never come into play.

Tonight, however, it will be a factor, as the Flyers will try to continue their solid Pronger-less play against a Bruins team that should be hungry after a lackluster loss to New York yesterday afternoon.