Flyers, Panthers square off in battle of surging clubs

Published March 20, 2012

| Sports Network

The Philadelphia Flyers will try to continue their superb month of March when they host the streaking Florida Panthers tonight at Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers have won three of their last four games (3-0-1) to post an excellent 8-1-1 mark in March. As a result, Philadelphia is now five points ahead of New Jersey for the fifth seed in the East and the Flyers are also just two behind fourth-seeded Pittsburgh. Philly is also five points behind the New York Rangers for the Atlantic Division lead.

Florida, meanwhile, began March by losing four out of five contests, but the Panthers, who hold a three-point lead over Washington for first place in the Southeast Division, enter tonight riding a four-game winning streak. It marks Florida's longest winning streak since posting seven straight victories from March 2-16, 2008.

If the Panthers want to keep their streak alive tonight, they'll have to end a five-game skid in their series with the Flyers. Philadelphia has taken all three meetings this year and can complete a sweep of the season series this evening. Florida has lost four of its last six games in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Flyers grabbed three of a possible four points in two weekend games, losing a shootout decision Saturday in Boston before earning an OT win Sunday against visiting Pittsburgh. Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with 0.9 seconds left in overtime, to lift Philadelphia to the 3-2 win over the Penguins, who had their NHL season-high winning streak halted at 11 games.

Philadelphia trailed the Penguins by a 2-0 score after 40 minutes, but Kimmo Timonen tallied on the power play just 31 seconds into the third period and Hartnell's first marker knotted the score at 2-2 with 4:47 left in regulation.

Hartnell than posted his 35th goal of the season just as it seemed the game was destined to head to a shootout. Danny Briere skated up the left wing and found Hartnell lurking in the slot and his wrister sailed past the glove of Marc-Andre Fleury. The goal was the latest overtime winner in Flyers history, besting Mike Richards' tally at 4:57 against Boston on December 11, 2010.

"The overtime goal was a great pass to me. (Braydon) Coburn did a good job of letting it go through his stick and I was able to get it and shoot quick. I knew that the time was about to expire," Hartnell said of the goal.

Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 38 shots, Kimmo Timonen posted a goal and an assist and Claude Giroux added two helpers for Philadelphia, which improved its home record to 19-10-5 in the opener of a five-game residency.

Bryzgalov was named the NHL's First Star for the second consecutive week on Monday. The 31-year-old Russian improved to 8-0-1 with a 1.20 goals-against average, .960 save percentage and four shutouts since March 1.

On the injury front, Flyers forward Maxime Talbot (upper body) and defenseman Andrea Lilja (throat) are doubtful for tonight's game. Talbot was injured in a fight with Boston's Johnny Boychuk on Saturday, while Lilja left Sunday's game after getting hit in the throat with a puck.

Also, the Flyers will not have defenseman Andrej Meszaros for the remainder of the regular season as he is scheduled to undergo surgery on his lower back and will be out six-to-eight weeks. Meszaros, who is third among Flyers blueliners with 25 points this year, has been out since March 1.

The Panthers earned their latest victory in Saturday's 3-2 shootout decision over visiting Buffalo. Dmitry Kulikov scored the game-winning goal in the seventh round of the shootout as Florida squeezed past the Sabres, 3-2, to cap a four-game homestand with a perfect 4-0 mark.

Kulikov, playing in his first game after missing the previous 23 due to knee surgery, picked up the puck and went in slowly on Sabres netminder Ryan Miller. Kulikov waited for Miller to make his move, faked to the backhand, and lifted the puck over the outstretched glove of Miller for the winner. Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore then stopped Drew Stafford's attempt to seal the victory.

Mikael Samuelsson and John Madden scored for the Panthers, while Theodore made 24 saves.

"Tonight was emotional," Panthers head coach Kevin Dineen said. "We were playing against a desperate hockey team and to get the win in a shootout, something that hasn't been our specialty this year, gives us a good feeling."

In addition to Kulikov, Panthers forward Kris Versteeg also returned Saturday after missing nine in a row with a lower-body injury. Versteeg played 27 games with the Flyers last season before being dealt to Florida in the offseason.

Another former Flyer, Scottie Upshall, could also return for the Panthers tonight. The journeyman forward has been out since late January, when he underwent surgery to repair a sports hernia.

Beginning with tonight, Florida is playing two straight and six of its next eight games on the road. The Panthers are just 15-14-5 as the guest this year compared to a 20-9-8 mark at home.

URL

http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2012/03/20/flyers-panthers-square-off-in-battle-surging-clubs/