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Wednesday, March 31
2:28 p.m. - Voorhees, NJ

If the Flyers are thinking they will get an easy two points against the Islanders tomorrow night, a team they have beaten 15 straight times, they certainly weren’t letting on after today’s practice in Voorhees.

In fact, it was just the opposite. With the Islanders out of the playoff picture, head coach Peter Laviolette cautioned that the 13th place team in the Eastern Conference will give the Flyers everything they can handle when the teams meet at Nassau Coliseum (7:00 p.m., CSN).

“I don’t put a whole lot into [the 15-game winning streak]. I really don’t,” he said. “Any team is capable of beating any team on any given night. The team that works the hardest and executes better usually wins the game.

“I know that the Islanders are capable of beating us, so we better be ready to make sure we’re ready to beat them. They have a good hockey team and play hard, so it won’t be easy.”

Chris Pronger also scoffs at the mention of what is the longest stretch of wins from one team over another in the NHL. Philadelphia has outscored New York 51-25 since the streak began, and 15-7 in the five meetings this season.

“We put nothing into that, to be honest,” he said. “They’re playing very hard. We have to come in there prepared for battle.”

Philadelphia remains in sixth place in the Eastern Conference as of this afternoon, and is looking to build off of an impressive 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at home on Sunday. The victory was much needed, as the Flyers ended a five-game winless streak.

“At the end of the day, we want to be consistent, and from that will come wins,” said Pronger. “We want to play similar to the way we played the other day against New Jersey; up-tempo, skating, making plays and being smart with the puck. If we’re able to find that groove and that consistency we’re going to win a bunch of our games.”

With 82 points, the Flyers are knotted with Montreal and Boston, but own the tiebreaker with both clubs by virtue of their 38 wins. All three teams have six games remaining.

For two of those six games, the Flyers will be without agitating forward Dan Carcillo, who was handed a two-game suspension by the league for a high stick on New Jersey’s David Clarkson on Sunday.

Asked about the suspension today, Carcillo said: “Hockey is a quick game and sometimes things happen and there’s consequences. There’s nothing you can do to change it.

“I’ll just grin and bare it and get back Sunday.”

Carcillo had been playing alongside Mike Richards and Claude Giroux, and will be replaced in that spot by Scott Hartnell on Thursday. Hartnell missed practice today for personal reasons, but will join the team on Long Island.

A couple more notes regarding the roster: James van Riemsdyk, who missed Sunday’s game with a lower body injury, returned to the ice today and is good to go. The rookie forward explained that he took a slap shot to his knee area on Saturday in Pittsburgh.

“It’s been feeling a lot better the last couple days. It’s good to get a good [sweat] out there, too, to get myself back up to speed again,” he said.

Van Riemsdyk said his knee filled up with fluid, but that he since had it drained.

“That definitely made it feel a lot better, and it took a lot of the pressure off, too.”

Finally, goaltender Jeremy Duchesne will be the backup to Brian Boucher on Thursday night, it was revealed by Laviolette. Boucher is 2-0-0 with a 1.57 goals-against average against the Islanders this season.

Monday, March 29
1:51 p.m. – Philadelphia, PA

Flyers relish three-day break

Now that the Flyers have wrapped up their “ridiculous” March schedule (an adjective used by head coach Peter Laviolette a little over a week ago), the club can now take a breath and get some much-needed rest before the final six games of the regular season. Philadelphia has three days off before playing the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Thursday night (7:00 p.m., CSN).

It has been nearly a month since the Flyers had consecutive days with no games, coming at the end of the Olympic break on Feb. 28-March 1. Mike Richards and Chris Pronger, who played in the Gold Medal game on Feb. 28, have not had consecutive days off since Feb. 4-5.

The club gathered today at the Wachovia Center for the annual team photo, and the majority of the team skated afterwards (Richards and Pronger did not). The entire team and its staff will have Tuesday off.

“The schedule for March was really difficult. It was really tough,” said Laviolette.

“We’ll come back on Wednesday and have practice and work on some things we need to work on. I just think that the time away from the rink and the ice and the grind, mentally and physically, will be positive.”

Fortunately for Philadelphia, it’s much easier to go into the short break with a victory. A convincing 5-1 win over the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night could very well give the team its confidence back after a five-game winless streak was put to an end.

“It was a good feeling to get back to winning a game,” said Danny Briere. “Hopefully, it’s good for the confidence. There’s not much time left in the season and we realize that, but it’s never too late to get on a roll.”

Teammate Ian Laperriere agreed.

“Hopefully, yesterday is the start of something good for us,” said Laperriere. “We want to get into the playoffs with momentum. To do that, we’re going to need a couple more wins.

“There’s no better feeling than winning. I was bitter all [yesterday] morning. Everybody was. It’s not fun to come to the come to the rink and know you lost the last couple of games. But, it’s a good feeling today, we’ll have a day off tomorrow, and recharge the battery and build on the win yesterday.”

No fear for Lappy

Speaking of Laperriere, his play was one of the keys to the win on Sunday night. A valuable penalty-killer, the wily veteran ended up with three blocked shots on the night, as did his linemate, Blair Betts. Philadelphia killed off five Devils power plays, including four in the second period when the game was still within reach for New Jersey.

There was one moment in the game when Laperriere dove in front of one drive from the point, deflecting the puck into the stands. He received a huge ovation from the crowd as he skated back to the bench, and his teammates appreciated the effort, too.

“When you come back from a block, guys are standing up like you scored a goal. Everybody is giving you high-fives because they know it’s a big block,” he said. “It just pushes them to do the same thing the next shift. We have a lot of young guys in the room, and if we can influence them to add that to their game, that’s great.”

In one of the scarier moments of the season, Laperriere blocked a shot from the stick of Buffalo’s Jason Pominville with his face on November 27. He infamously returned to the game in the third period after losing seven teeth and getting stitched up like a Raggedy Andy doll.

That didn’t stop him from diving in front of a shot by the Devils’ Ilya Kovalchuk last night. Kovalchuk, of course, may have the hardest shot in the league.

“Yesterday he took one [shot] when the puck was spinning and it just missed [my face] and it went over the net. He does have a hell of a shot, but what can you do?

“If you do it right you won’t feel it as much than if you do it wrong. Trust me, I’ve been on both sides,” said Laperriere, sending the surrounding media into laughter.

Big Ville style

One of the standout stars of yesterday’s win against New Jersey was winger Ville Leino. The 26-year-old Finland native has been playing beside Danny Briere and Simon Gagne since Jeff Carter got hurt, and had a goal and an assist in the game. Not only did he show up on the scoresheet, he was noticeable throughout the game, including a dazzling move to get around a Devils defender that nearly resulted in a highlight-reel goal.

Laviolette was among the impressed.

“He was very noticeable with the puck and his individual skill, which ultimately set other players up and made them better hockey players,” said the coach. “When the puck was in his hands he did a terrific job with it. He got time and space, and he really set the tone for the skill level.”

“I know my spot with the team and with Jeff [Carter] out, I knew somebody had to step up a little bit,” Leino told the Delaware County Daily Times last night. “I’ve been feeling pretty good now for a while and I’ve been getting into the game a little more.”

Leino has been in and out of the lineup since being acquired from the Detroit Red Wings in February, but if he plays the way he did last night, he won’t be coming out again any time soon.

Sunday, March 28
11:09 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Richards shows leadership, says Laviolette

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette heaped praise on captain Mike Richards for his role in talking with the team this morning to try and put and end to the five-game winless streak, and refocus for the stretch run. The Flyers have just six games left in the regular season, and with the 5-1 win over the Devils tonight, jumped back into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.

In his post-game press conference, Laviolette was asked what his message to the team was today. Instead, he said the captain gave that message.

FlyersTV: Watch Laviolette

“It was a good message. We have to focus on just this game tonight, and I thought it was the perfect thing,” said Laviolette. “That was the message delivered by Mike [Richards].”

There were several clips in the media today criticizing Richards, in particular. Wild, negative speculation is easy when the team is on a losing streak, but the fact remains that no one the outside truly knows who is leading the ship.

According to Laviolette, Richards is that guy – or, at least he was in this instance.

“There’s lot that goes on in the room that you guys don’t know about. That was just an example,” said the head coach.

A modest Richards downplayed Laviolette’s comments, instead referring to the team’s group of leaders and veterans as a whole.

“It was just leaders getting together and stepping up and saying to everyone [to focus] on the big picture,” he said. “[Chris Pronger], and Kimmo [Timonen] and [Simon] Gagne, we all kind of thought that and just wanted to settle everything down.”

Injuries, lineup changes

Keeping up with the Flyers’ injury list is a bit of a chore these days, and Sunday’s game against the Devils was no different.

The good news is that defenseman Matt Carle was able to return from a deep bone bruise in his left foot that forced him to sit for two games. Although Carle’s impact is generally on the blue line, the Alaska native scored just 53 seconds into the game when his wrist shot got past the glove hand of goaltender Martin Brodeur to give Philadelphia the early lead.

The bad news is that James van Riemsdyk was forced to sit for what was deemed by club general manager Paul Holmgren as a lower body injury. The rookie forward was hit with a slap shot by Kimmo Timonen in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon, but was able to finish the game.

Peter Laviolette decided to sit defenseman Ryan Parent due to Carle’s return, as well as dress Riley Cote for just his second game in the last 41. There were also several changes to his forward lines, which looked like this:


Meanwhile, goaltender Johan Backlund remains day-to-day after re-aggravating a groin injury yesterday that he originally sustained while playing for the Adirondack Phantoms.

“He’s better today, but he’s obviously not ready to even backup, so he’s going to see the doctor again before the players go out for warm-ups,” explained general manager Paul Holmgren before the game. “Hopefully we’ll have a better idea, but he’s better today. We’ll take it as a good sign.”

Holmgren signed relative unknown Carter Hutton to an amateur tryout to back up Brian Boucher for the game against the Devils. Hutton is allowed to dress for one game under the deal.

The 24-year-old just wrapped up his senior season at UMass-Lowell and appeared in four games with the Phantoms since signing an amateur tryout there on March 20, and was obviously excited for a chance to take part in his first NHL game.

“Two weeks ago I was playing college hockey and now I’m getting the chance to be up here playing with the guys. It is pretty exciting,” said Hutton.

Hutton mentioned he knows Mike Richards a little bit, having taken part in a charity golf tournament in his native town of Thunder Bay, Ontario with the Flyers’ captain a couple years ago. He also played against Parent in juniors.

Saturday, March 27
5:33 p.m. - Pittsburgh, PA

Gagne, Laviolette confused with reversal

For the second straight game in Pittsburgh, Flyers forward Simon Gagne had a goal wiped off of the board that in all likelihood should have counted. Gagne seemingly gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead early in the second period when he slid a loose puck past Marc-Andre Fleury, who was knocked to the ice by Ville Leino in what was deemed "incidental contact."

Referee Dan Marouelli, who signaled it was a goal at the time, reversed the decision after a brief delay.

Gagne's biggest issue with the reversal was that he thought Marouelli only changed his mind after seeing a replay on the Mellon Arena scoreboard.

FlyersTV: Gagne reacts to call

"At first, he called it a goal. After reviewing the play on the scorebard he changed his mind that we had somebody on their goalie. That's the first time I've seen that," said Gagne.

"I asked him, 'are you allowed to look at the scoreboard?' He said I would be happy if the same thing happened to us."

The call was even more curious because the referees ruled that incidental contact nullified the goal - but in looking at the play again, Fleury was well in front of the goal crease. Technically, incidental contact with the goaltender outside of the crease is allowed to occur, and therefore the goal should have counted.

"You have to be able to go to the net. We weren't through the crease. You have to be able to go to the net," added Peter Laviolette.

"I guess I didn't like it because it seemed like Ville lost his footing because the guy took his legs out and he fell into the goaltender. The referee made the call initially that it was a goal. He was staring at the whole play. He made the call. He's the one who had the best view of it."

Laviolette was asked if that reversal was a turning point in the game, as the Flyers had the better of the scoring chances up to that point.

"It seemed like it. It seemed like we started to lose our steam," he said.

Gagne lost credit for a goal in the Flyers' 7-4 win in Pittsburgh on January 7, when the proper video replay was not sent to the war room in Toronto by the Penguins' home television crew.

Backlund injured in debut

Flyers goaltender Johan Backlund reaggrivated a groin injury in Saturday afternoon's 4-1 loss in Pittsburgh to the Penguins, he said after the game. Backlund, who was making his NHL debut, made 22 saves and allowed two goals to Pittsburgh before being replaced by Brian Boucher to start the third.

Backlund, 28, had been nursing a slight groin strain he sustained while with the Adirondack Phantoms, where he has spent the majority of his first season in North America. He was recalled on Wednesday, and declared himself 100 percent yesterday after going through his third practice with the team.

Laviolette was encouraged by what he saw from Backlund for 40 minutes.

"Under the circumstances of coming in here and playing the defending champs, I thought he did a good job and he looked sharp. It's unfortunate what happened," said the head coach.

Boucher will likely be in net when the Flyers host New Jersey on Sunday evening for the team's annual Fan Appreciation Night (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets).

* * *

10:37 a.m. - Pittsburgh, PA

Goaltender Johan Backlund will make his first career NHL start this afternoon when the Flyers take on the Penguins at Mellon Arena (1:00 p.m., CSN).

Friday, March 26
2:42 - Voorhees, NJ

Backund starting?

With the shortage of practice time in recent weeks as they go through a stretch of 17 games in 26 days in the month of March, the Flyers hit the ice at their practice facility today for a little more than a half hour, with games against the Penguins and Devils on the horizon this weekend.

There has been plenty of speculation in the local media regarding the goaltending situation and whether it will be Brian Boucher or rookie Johan Backlund in net against Pittsburgh tomorrow afternoon (1:00 p.m., CSN). Peter Laviolette did not want to divulge any goaltender decisions or lineup information after today's skate.

With the back-to-back games, it could provide an opportunity for Backlund to make his NHL debut. He was asked after practice today if he is ready, should he get the call.

"For me, it would be a great chance to play my first game and try to help the team," said Backlund, who is 21-17-2 with the Adirondack Phantoms this season. "We have to win games here to [stay] in the playoffs.

"I don't know their thoughts. I hope they trust me."

Backlund, 28, was signed out of the Swedish Elite League on March 26, 2009 - just over a year ago. Going from the bigger rinks in Europe to the pro dimensions in North America was an adjustment when he came over this season, but Backlund has continually improved throughout the season.

"It's been a learning process, especially in the beginning. I think after a couple of months [I got] used to it, and I feel pretty comfortable in the American Hockey League," he said. "I know there's a big step to play here, but it felt good in practice so it feels like I'm ready."

Paul Holmgren said today that it is completely up to Peter Laviolette to decide who will start in the net this weekend. Still, Holmgren is obviously the guy who signed Backlund and was asked how he would react should Backlund go against the Penguins.

"I'd be anxious to see him play in the NHL. He's done everything we've asked in the American League and he's won games singlehandedly down there," said the general manager. "It's not like he hasn't played in elite leagues before. He's played in the Swedish Elite League for a number of years.

"I'd actually relish the opportunity to watch him."

Carle update

Defenseman Matt Carle missed last night's 4-3 loss to Minnesota with a deep bone bruise in his left foot. He stayed off of the ice tocay, and was getting a second MRI on the injury this afternoon.

Holmgren said that Carle will likely be a game-time decision tomorrow afternoon.

"We're getting his [medical] films and everything looked at a little more closely today," said Holmgren. "I would say there's an outside chance he could play in the game tomorrow. We won't know until either real late today or early tomorrow morning."

Thursday, March 25
10:18 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Holmgren on Carter surgery

The Flyers announced earlier today that center Jeff Carter will have surgery on his injured left ankle. Specifically, he will have a screw inserted in the foot, and that the procedure may even allow Carter to return earlier than the original prognosis of 3-4 weeks.

“It was decided to put this in for two reasons,” said Holmgren. “Number one, it might [speed up his] return to the lineup, and the more important one is that where this fracture is, there may be future problems down the road if he didn’t have it done.

“Once we found that out, we talked with Jeff about getting this done and obviously he was in favor of [it].”

Holmgren said that it is still too early to say if Carter could return before the end of the regular season on April 11, although it’s probably unlikely. The team will have a better idea in a week to 10 days.

“When they take the next MRI or X-ray, there needs to be some callus around that area, which would mean there is some healing going on,” he said. “Then, it becomes a pain tolerance [issue]. But until they see some healing, I don’t think they’re going to let him skate.”

Bart Gets His First

Oskars Bartulis picked a great time to score his first goal in the National Hockey League.

Bartulis, who has family visiting from his native Latvia, was credited with Philadelphia’s first goal in the 4-3 overtime loss to Minnesota on Thursday night at the Wachovia Center when the puck deflected in off of his leg.

“It feels great. It was time already to score that first one,” said Bartulis, who was playing in his 49th career NHL game, all this season. “My family is here. I am sure they are happy, and I’m happy, too.

“Actually, the guys were joking about it before the game that it was time for me to get my first one.”

Bartulis returned to the lineup on March 21 against Atlanta after missing three games with a minor groin injury and eight as a healthy scratch. He has eight assists to go along with his one goal this season, after being recalled from the Phantoms early in the year.

* * *

6:20 p.m. – Philadelphia, PA

Flyers defenseman Matt Carle will miss tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild with a deep bone bruise in his left foot after blocking a shot in Ottawa on Tuesday, according to G.M. Paul Holmgren. He is day-to-day.

Lukas Krajicek, who sat out the last two games, will replace Carle in the lineup.

Carle has been paired with Chris Pronger for virtually the entire season on the blue line, so Peter Laviolette must shuffle his defense pairings. Here’s what they will look like for tonight’s game:

Chris Pronger-Braydon Coburn
Kimmo Timonen-Lukas Krajicek
Oskars Bartulis-Ryan Parent

Carle has played in all 73 games this season, tallying 4 goals and 28 assists for 32 points and 16 penalty minutes. His +18 rating is second on the team only to Pronger’s +21.

* * *

11:48 a.m. – Philadelphia, PA

In an effort to jumpstart the Flyers’ offense, it appears that Peter Laviolette has juggled his lines a bit once again for tonight’s home game against the Wild (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets).

Here’s how they skated at this morning’s practice:

van Riemsdyk-Giroux-Powe

The most notable change from the previous game in Ottawa on Tuesday is that Danny Briere would move back to the center position, with Simon Gagne and Ville Leino as his wingers. Claude Giroux goes back to the middle with James van Riemsdyk to his left, as has been the case most of the season. The Flyers have a combined three goals in the last three games.

Brian Boucher will, of course, be in net with rookie Johan Backlund as the backup.

Minnesota is one of three Western Conference teams that the Flyers play twice this year. In the only previous game, the Wild skated to a 2-1 win on February 6 at the Xcel Energy Center. In that game, rookie goaltender Anton Khudobin stopped 38 of 39 Flyers shots in his first career NHL start. He’s since been reassigned back to Houston Areos (AHL).

Nicklas Backstrom, who was battled injuries this year, is expected to get the call for Minnesota tonight. Mikko Koivu, Minnesota’s leading scorer with 66 points, is out tonight due to injury.

Peter Laviolette mentioned this morning that the Wild, currently 13th in the West, have changed their style of play from the past under head coach Todd Richards, who took over for the defensive-oriented Jacques Lemaire in the offseason.

“They are a team that’s on the attack. They have kind of changed the makeup of what they were trying to from the past couple of years of being a defensive team,” he said. “[Now] they are pushing men in on the forecheck, and they are trying to be more aggressive in the neutral zone and get more of an attack at the offensive net. We have to be ready defensively and make sure that we’re sharp.”

The Flyers had a full team pregame skate this morning at the Wachovia Center.

“The morning skates, I think, you can tell how the guys are going to be [in the game], and I think guys were sharp today,” said Scottt Hartnell.

If you’re coming down to the game tonight, there’s plenty going on off of the ice:

- Dollar pretzel night: $1 soft pretzels, presented by SUPERPRETZEL, will be sold at the Wachovia Center throughout tonight’s game. There will be a pretzel-tossing contest in the Broad Street Atrium during second intermission.
- Flyers fans can get 30% off the purchase of a black Flyers jersey at all Fan Gear locations throughout the Wachovia Center (in-arena and tonight only).

- Flyers Charities is having its annual “Players Favorite Things” Basket Auction on Thursday. The baskets, prepared by the Flyers Wives, feature several of the players’ “favorite things” including game-worn autographed hockey gloves from the 2010 Winter Olympics (Chris Pronger), a team-signed 2010 Winter Olympics Finland jersey (Kimmo Timonen), and an autographed commemorative bottle of wine from the 2010 Winter Classic (Ian Laperriere).

A preview of items included in the “favorite things” baskets is available by clicking here. Fans are encouraged to visit the 11th Street Atrium, behind Section 112, inside the Wachovia Center from 5:30 p.m. until the start of the third period in order to place a bid. 

All money raised benefits the Flyers Charities, a division of the Comcast-Spectacor Foundation.

About 1,200 tickets remained for the game as of yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 24
3:59 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

Simon Gagne may have dodged a bullet when Ottawa’s Anton Volchenkov hit him from behind yesterday.

Sure, Gagne has a bit of a stiff neck after going headfirst into the boards in the third period of a 2-0 loss to the Senators, but after missing most of the 2007-08 season with a concussion, he’s fortunate he’ll still be in the lineup when the Flyers host the Minnesota Wild tomorrow night at the Wachovia Center (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets).

FlyersTV: Gagne speaks

With another night to reflect on the hit that should have been a boarding minor at the very least, Gagne talked about the dangerous play this morning at the team’s practice facility.

“As a player, you play the game and it’s a physical sport. You expect to get hit, but you don’t expect to get hit from behind,” he said, “especially when you are hit a couple feet from the boards.

“If I was a bit closer to the boards and my neck had the full impact, we may be talking about something a lot worse than a stiff neck this morning.”

Volchenkov had another borderline hit on Dan Carcillo earlier in the game, rocking the Flyers’ agitating forward at the blue line. It’s debatable whether or not Volchenkov got Carcillo with his shoulder or elbow. There was no penalty called on that play, either.

“It was just really frustrating night,” said Carcillo. “I thought they took a lot of runs at us, and everything the [league] says they want to crack down on, they were getting away with.”

“The angle I saw, I really thought it was an elbow,” said Ian Laperriere. “I saw Simon’s hit, and clearly he had his back to [Volchenkov]. These are dangerous hits. It’s a fast game out there, and sometimes it’s hard for the referees to see it.”

Ironically, the Flyers had a team meeting today at the Skate Zone and watched a video sent by the league regarding headshots, and a stiffer enforcement designed to prevent blind hits to the head that will begin tomorrow.

In a statement released on NHL.com on Tuesday: “The National Hockey League's Board of Governors tonight unanimously approved a rule prohibiting 'a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact.'"

“I think it's a great thing. I think it's something that as a player we asked the league to put a rule in and it's going to be applied tomorrow,” said Gagne.

“It's going to start tomorrow which is good. No more gray area,” added Laperriere. “Nobody wants to see anybody miss time or [end] a career because of a blind hit.”

Backlund recalled

Goaltender Johan Backlund has recovered from a minor groin strain, and taken the place of Jeremy Duchesne as the backup to Brian Boucher. Backlund will dress tomorrow night against Minnesota.

It will be the ninth time Backlund will dress as the backup. The 28-year-old Sweden native, who signed as a free agent in the summer, has yet to see any NHL action.

He has a 2.79 goals-against average, .906 save percentage and two shutouts in 41 appearances with Adirondack this season. For the official press release, click here.

Tuesday, March 23
11:47 p.m. – Ottawa, ON

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette admitted after tonight’s 2-0 loss to Ottawa that his club has to play better, but also voiced his displeasure at a hit from behind on Simon Gagne by Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov ( watch Laviolette).

In what was probably the key moment of the game, Volchenkov drilled the Flyers winger into the boards from behind on what Laviolette called a “dangerous hit.” To add insult to injury, the Senators scored just seconds after the play to take a 2-0 lead early in the third period when play should have been blown dead and Volchenkov sent to the penalty box, according to the head coach.

“It’s a dangerous hit. It’s from behind and it’s right next to the boards,” said Laviolette. “The hits from behind in vulnerable areas are supposed to be called. [The referee] said he didn’t get a look at it.”

Gagne was issued 19 minutes in penalties afterwards when he jumped Volchenkov, including his second career fighting major, leading to a seven-minute power play for the Senators that began on the ensuing faceoff.

Volchenkov was issued a mere roughing minor.

“I know I was facing the boards and I went headfirst into the boards,” said Gagne. “I could have hurt myself a lot more. I have a stiff neck right now, but it’s nothing worse than that. What [ticked] me off more is that they scored a goal on it.

“It’s funny because five minutes after it happened, the referee came to me and said he didn’t see the hit. He was looking at something else on the ice at [Dan] Carcillo and [an Ottawa] winger because they were looking to fight, or something. That’s why he didn’t see the hit. It’s over, and it’s pretty tough to take.”

Laviolette was also asked to comment on what appeared to be a Flyers power play goal late in the third period, when Kimmo Timonen seemingly backhanded the puck over the goal line during a scramble in front of the crease. Despite some replays that seemed to show the puck was over the line, the Toronto war room decided that the on-ice call of no goal would stand.

“It looks to me like it’s in the net,” said Laviolette.

Despite the calls not going Philadelphia’s way, a couple of the team’s leaders did not want to use that as an excuse. Captain Mike Richards, in particular, was fairly candid about the team’s performance.

“It just seemed like we had a little bit of lack of motivation, which obviously shouldn’t be there, and lack of urgency, which also shouldn’t be there,” he said.

“It’s frustrating to go through a game like that and not see everybody play their hardest. It’s a little bit frustrating, and it’s got to change.”

The Flyers failed to convert a full two-minute two-man advantage in the second period when Ottawa led 1-0.

“It’s got nothing to do with the referees. We had a five-on-three we could have scored on. We had a number of power plays in the third we could have scored on. It’s certainly not the referees’ fault,” added Chris Pronger.

* * *

5:02 p.m. - Ottawa, ON

Here are tonight’s Flyers lines at Ottawa, hot of the presses…or at least, this is how the Flyers will begin in tonight’s key matchup with the Senators at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., CSN).

Van Riemsdyk-Powe-Asham

Clearly, Claude Giroux has the most to gain in Jeff Carter’s absence in terms of an opportunity, centering the second line. Giroux has 15 goals and 41 points this season in 71 games, and has spent most of the season on a line between James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham.

“Obviously when you lose one of your best players it’s going to hurt you, but it’s done. We need to go forward,” he said this morning.

Giroux has one assist in his last seven games, and thinks he can pick up his play. He is one of several players that will have to consistently produce now with Carter likely out for the rest of the regular season.

“You want to help the team win, and I think I can do a lot better right now,” he said. Hopefully it will come around, and I just have to be patient.

“Sometimes you just don’t get the bounces you like, and hopefully I’ll get them back pretty soon.”

Monday, March 22
3:01 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

When news of Jeff Carter’s injury broke this afternoon, it became easy to forget that the Flyers actually had a practice today at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone.

The team hit the ice around noon on Monday for about 30 minutes, despite coming off of back-to-back games. During the Flyers’ hectic schedule of games and travel in the month of March, it was a rare opportunity to skate on an off-day, and head coach Peter Laviolette took advantage of it.

The last time the Flyers skated as a team (not including pregame skates) was on Friday, March 12.

“Just getting on the ice, with the schedule, was good because we haven’t had a lot of practice time lately,” said Danny Briere. “I know we weren’t out there very long, but we got the blood flowing and a sweat going to try to get the confidence back for everybody and get back on track.”

Just 10 games remain in the regular season for Philadelphia, including a key matchup with the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., CSN). The Flyers, Senators and Montreal Canadiens are all tied in the standings right now with 79 points in 72 games. Ottawa plays at Montreal later tonight, so one or both teams could be ahead of Philadelphia by tomorrow morning.

“Really, our playoffs start right now; if they didn’t start earlier, they do now,” said Chris Pronger. “We’re still in the playoffs, but we’ve got teams clawing at us and fighting not only for position but to make the playoffs.

“I think everybody understands that and we need to focus on each game, not focus too far ahead or worry about what’s happened in the past. We’ll worry about tomorrow in Ottawa, and go from there.”

Flyers captain Mike Richards would like to see the team have a consistent effort, night in and night out, during this stretch run – something that has eluded it since the end of the Olympic break.

“I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. We have to be better, play more consistent and play like we did last night in the latter part of the game (in the 3-1 loss to Atlanta),” said Richards. “It’s something that’s obviously a focus and we have to get better at.

“It’s got to happen quickly with 10 games left.”

Sunday, March 21
7:12 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Flyers defenseman Oskars Bartulis returned to the lineup for tonight's game against Atlanta in place of Lukas Krajicek. Bartulis, 23, played in his first game since he suffered a minor groin injury that kept him out of the first three games after the Olympic break. He was officially listed as a healthy scratch for the previous eight games.

In 46 games this year, Bartulis has eight assists and 26 penalty minutes.

For Krajicek, this is the first game he sat out since he was signed by the Flyers as a free agent on January 31. In 18 games with Philadelphia, he has one assist and 10 penalty minutes.

Also, Arron Asham returned to the lineup in place of Ville Leino, who was scoreless in the previous two games.

Saturday, March 20

5:48 p.m. - Atlanta, GA

When Peter Laviolette took over as the head coach, he made a couple of subtle changes to the Flyers’ travel schedule. This week on the road, in particular, is a prime example.

Rather than fly almost two hours immediately following games in Nashville on Tuesday and Dallas on Thursday, Laviolette decided to keep the team overnight in those cities following the games. That way, the team gets a decent meal after the game and a good night’s sleep to boot.

The only possible detriment to the change is that it doesn’t allow for practice time on the off-days. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Flyers simply took a chartered flight in the morning and had the rest of the afternoon free. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing this time of year, said Danny Briere. In fact, he thinks it’s helpful.

“Playing so many games this time in the season, the extra rest is crucial,” explained Briere, referring to the Flyers’ 16 games in 27 days that they are in the middle of right now. “Yes, we do need practice, but I think the rest is probably more crucial. I think Peter has evaluated that and that’s why he’s given us some days off in between games.”

“Every day [off] helps because we’ve been staying over and getting a good night’s sleep and travelling the next day, rather than travelling and getting in at who knows what time in the morning and then getting up and practicing,” added Matt Carle.

By not skating, the Flyers have managed to keep their energy level high and have collected three out of four points in the last two games, including a huge 3-2 win in Dallas on Thursday. They also have mandatory pregame skates the day of the game that are a may be a little longer than usual.

“I just find it’s a good way to stay fresh and stay hungry,” said James van Riemsdyk.  “Those days off kind of help your mind, especially, just kind of refresh a little bit and get to regroup and focus on the next game.”

When the team landed in Dallas on Wednesday morning, Laviolette got the group together for an informal bowling tournament to kill a couple of hours before checking into the hotel. With the nice weather and some down time, the guys have had plenty of meals together and gotten to spend time with one another on what is essentially the last extended road swing of the regular season.

The head coach liked his team’s energy level in Nashville and Dallas after having the previous day off.

“You hope in the days off, you get that energy to the level that you need to be successful,” he said.

Second best since Christmas

Thanks to CSNPhilly.com’s Tim Panaccio for the following stat: the Flyers have the second best record in the Eastern Conference since Christmas at 21-10-3. The top team, not surprisingly, is the Washington Capitals (24-6-4).

Overall, the Flyers are fourth in the league since the holiday behind Washington, Vancouver (23-8-3) and Phoenix (21-9-3).

Philadelphia sat in 14th place in the standings after losing to Florida on Dec. 21, and are currently in fifth place thanks to the resurgence.

Thursday, March 18
11:25 p.m. - Dallas, TX

While it’s true that the Dallas Stars are not one of the league's top teams right now and could miss qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, tonight’s 3-2 Flyers victory in the Lone Star State was among the more satisfying wins of the season.

After all, it was the first start in net for Brian Boucher in nearly three months, and the veteran netminder will get the majority (if not all) of the starts for the rest of the regular season now that Michael Leighton is on the shelf with a severe high ankle sprain.

After allowing a pair of goals to Steve Ott in the first period, Boucher shut the door on Dallas and made a number of outstanding stops as Philadelphia picked up its 37th win of the season. Oh, and by the way, the Flyers moved into fifth place in the Eastern Conference and took advantage of regulation losses by Ottawa, Boston and the Rangers to further improve their playoff prospects.

“I thought as the first period wore on, we got our legs under us toward the end of the first period,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “Second period we had a much better jump on our forecheck and trying to sustain an attack in the offensive zone.

“Boosh made some big saves in there for us, especially the one in the third there that was point blank (on Karlis Skrastins). He made a terrific save.”

The save on Skrastins was the key save of the game according to Laviolette, as it came shortly after Philadelphia had taken its first lead of the game on third period goal by Scott Hartnell which turned out to be the game-winner.

“I just happened to be in position, and it hit me,” said a modest Boucher.

As has been mentioned numerous times, Boucher’s last start came way back on December 21 at home against Florida. He suffered a lacerated finger in that loss to the Panthers, which opened up the door for Michael Leighton at the time. Leighton was a big part of the Flyers’ turnaround, which unofficially began on December 23 in Tampa Bay. With Ray Emery’s recovery, Boucher did not even dress for 10 games, acting as the third goalie.

Now, with Leighton out for 8-to-10 weeks, he’s back in the spotlight. And he passed his first test tonight with flying colors.

“It’s nice to contribute, and I’m happy to get an opportunity. It’s exciting for me, and I hope to make the most of it.”

Hartnell recovers from illness

Scott Hartnell was the only player not to partake in the morning skate today in Dallas, as he was recovering from a bad case of food poisoning, he mentioned after tonight’s game. Fortunately for Philadelphia, he battled through it and was credited with the tiebreaking goal after a shot by Jeff Carter bounced off of his leg and past the goal line.

“I was definitely not feeling good last night. I didn’t have more than a couple hours of sleep, and this afternoon I was just tossing and turning,” he said. “I was able to settle the stomach down, get in little bit of a meal around 4:00, and that gave me a little bit of energy.”

Hartnell was asked if he would go through the ordeal again if he knew he was going to get the game-winner.

“Yeah, I would. Whoever has food poisoning, you’re puking or whatever, and it’s not the best feeling in the world. But, I would do it again if I had to,” he laughed.

The Flyers will remain in Dallas tonight and charter to Atlanta on Friday for the first of a home-and-home with the Thrashers on Saturday night (7:00 p.m., TCN).

* * *

2:45 p.m. – Dallas, TX

Count Chris Pronger among the players who are not worried about the sudden change in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers.

Brian Boucher, who hasn’t started a game for the Flyers since Dec. 21, will get that opportunity tonight in Dallas against the Stars (8:30 p.m., CSN). Michael Leighton is out for 8-to-10 weeks with a severe high ankle sprain, it was announced by general manager Paul Holmgren moments ago.

Pronger said after today’s morning skate at the American Airlines Center that the team is confident with Boucher as its last line of defense.

“I don’t think it’s concerning or worrisome. ‘Boosh’ was brought in here to do a job, and I think he understands his role. It’s for instances just like this,” said Pronger. “He’s been a starting goalie in the league before and has played very well, and obviously we feel comfortable with him in the net.”

Peter Laviolette also had words of praise for the 33-year-old veteran netminder, who came on in relief of Leighton on Tuesday in Nashville and made 24 saves on 25 shots.

“He came into the game and responded very well. Our goaltenders, since I’ve been here, have done that,” said the head coach. “When we haven’t won hockey games it seems like it’s more that we play poorly than our goaltender plays poorly. We need to play a good game in front of him, and do all the things necessary to win hockey games.

“He’s anxious to get in, he wants to play, he’s working hard in practice and he looks good. We’re counting on good goaltending.”

Laviolette gave the team a day off of the ice yesterday as the team chartered from Nashville here to Dallas. The Flyers also had Monday off to re-energize, and it seemed to work, as the team had plenty of jump in the 4-3 shootout loss to the Predators.

The coach would like to see more of that tonight against the Stars.

“I didn’t like the score or some of the quick defensive breakdowns that we had, but we were on our toes and ready to play hockey,” he said. “We need to do the same thing tonight.”

Wednesday, March 17
2:01 p.m. - Dallas, TX

With Michael Leighton likely out of action for at least a few weeks with a high ankle sprain, all eyes now turn to Brian Boucher, who will be the Flyers’ starting goaltender for the foreseeable future. Boucher will be between the pipes when the Flyers continue their road swing on Thursday night in Dallas (8:30 p.m., CSN).

Although he has not started a game since December 21, the Rhode Island native feels good about his game. Boucher has come on in relief of Leighton four times since that last start, including last night when he stopped 24 of 25 Nashville shots before allowing a shootout goal to Martin Erat that gave the Predators a 4-3 win.

“I don’t have a lot of evidence to go on as far as playing-wise in the last three months, but I’ve played in a couple games here since the break in some relief roles, and I feel good about myself,” Boucher told On The Fly on the team’s charter flight from Nashville to Dallas this afternoon. “I anticipate doing a good job with our team continuing to push forward.”

Boucher is 4-12-2 with a 2.77 goals against average and .899 save percentage this season.

Any goaltender will admit that preparing to start a game is much easier mentally and physically than coming into a game in the middle of a period off of the bench, cold, as the backup, as Boucher has done several times this year.

Suddenly thrust into the starting role, Boucher is looking forward to taking the reins.

“You try and prepare the same way, regardless,” he said of being a backup as opposed to the starter. “Not much really changes, except what you do in practice.

“For me, it’s a welcome change. Hopefully I can do a good job.”

Should Leighton be out for the rest of the regular season, Boucher would almost certainly be Philadelphia’s goaltender in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The last time that happened, he took the Flyers to within a game of the Stanley Cup Finals as a rookie in 2000 when they lost to the Devils in a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boucher has appeared in 22 playoff games in his career, posting an 11-8 record, 2.06 goals against average and .906 save percentage.

“This is the best part of the year, and you’ve got everybody’s attention now with the playoff push,” said Boucher. “I feel pretty good.”

Leighton, meanwhile, has returned to Philadelphia and will have an MRI tomorrow to determine the extent of the damage to his ankle.

Duchesne recalled

In need of a backup now, the Flyers recalled goaltender Jeremy Duchesne on an emergency basis from the Phantoms today. Duchesne will dress as Boucher’s backup tomorrow night in Dallas and wear uniform #67.

Johan Backlund, who has gotten the majority of the starts for Adirondack this season and has acted as the Flyers’ backup for eight games this year, has a minor lower body injury and could take Duchesne’s place in the near future once he gets healthy.

Duchesne, 23, has appeared in two games with Adirondack this season, posting a 1-1-0 record with a 1.02 goals-against average and .981 save percentage. He stopped all 28 shots to lead the Phantoms to a 4-0 victory over the Providence Bruins on March 13 for his only win. He played 19 games for the Flyers' ECHL affiliate, the Kalamazoo Wings.

A native of Silver Spring, Maryland, Duchesne was originally selected by the Flyers in the fourth round (119th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

This is the first time he has been recalled to the National Hockey League.

Tuesday, March 16
1:52 p.m. – Nashville, TN

Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell came to the Flyers in the summer of 2007 via a trade with Nashville. Believe it or not, this is their first trip back to their old stomping grounds tonight when Philadelphia faces the Predators at Bridgestone Arena (8:00 p.m., CSN).

Timonen, who was the captain of the Predators when the trade occurred, spent the first eight seasons of his NHL career with Nashville.

“On the bus ride to the hotel it brought back a couple memories,” he said this morning. “I only have good memories of this town and this organization and the fans, so I’ve missed it.

“I’m looking forward to tonight, getting back on the ice and seeing the fans, and hopefully we win because we need the two points.”

Hartnell joined Nashville as an 18-year-old in 2000, after getting drafted by Nashville in the first round (sixth overall) of the NHL Entry Draft just months prior.

“Just coming into the city brings back a lot of great memories,” he said.

Timonen mentioned that he visited with some old friends during the team’s off day on Monday, and even drove past his old house. Hartnell also got time to catch up with some old pals, and hit a few of his favorite places from his time playing and living here.

He was asked to compare playing in Philadelphia to playing here in Nashville.

“Probably the biggest difference is it’s a hockey market [in Philadelphia]. They are born and bred to be Flyers fans. Here, it took a little while to get used to, with the laid back attitude about the game.

“Up in Philly they want to win, and they want to win really bad. It’s nice to have that edge in the stands because it brings an edge to our team, too.”

Powe, Asham in tonight’s lineup

Peter Laviolette will put Darroll Powe back in the lineup for tonight’s game, and Arron Asham will remain in as well. Riley Cote and Ville Leino will be tonight’s healthy scratches. Powe sat out on Sunday in New York in favor of Cote, and will be back on a line with Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere.

The Mike Richards line will remain the same, while Hartnell will skate with Jeff Carter and Danny Briere, and Asham will be with Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.

Laviolette is hoping that yesterday’s off day will re-energize the team for tonight’s game.

“I’m hoping it gives us some energy. We were zapped in New York,” said the head coach. “We just didn’t have the pop that we needed. I think we generated eight scoring chances, and four of those were in the first period so it leaves two and two after that…just not enough offense.

“Defensively we were okay, but offensively we didn’t do what we needed to do.”

Michael Leighton will start in net.

Monday, March 15
5:10 p.m. – Nashville, TN

Peter Laviolette didn’t mince words when asked why he gave his team the day off today in Nashville, where the Flyers play the Predators on Tuesday night (8:00 p.m., CSN).

“The schedule is ridiculous right now. Every week is four (games) in six (days),” he said today. “We just finished four in six, we're looking at four in six, and there is just no time for us.

“We played a game last night that was missing energy. And with that, we didn't pressure anything. So, somehow we need to get some energy back for this upcoming week."

The Flyers will continue their four-game road trip in with stops in Dallas on Thursday and Atlanta on Saturday. Philadelphia hosts the Thrashers on Sunday night. Laviolette will continue to take it one game at a time, though.

“We need to get back on track and start this part of the road trip with a win. Just keeping things in the short term, this game is really important."

Finally, the head coach did not give any updates today in regards to what his lineup will look like tomorrow night or who will be the goaltender. Riley Cote and Arron Asham played against the Rangers, but those two were healthy scratches in favor of Ville Leino and Darroll Powe the previous game against Chicago.

Flyers-Red Wings moved

The National Hockey League has chosen the Philadelphia Flyers-Detroit Red Wings game on Sunday, April 4 at the Wachovia Center as its “Game of the Week.”

The start time has been bumped up to 12:30 p.m. and will be broadcast nationally on NBC.

Saturday, March 13
6:05 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Even before the Flyers and Chicago Blackhawks combined for five goals in the third period, there was a consensus opinion in the Wachovia Center press box that the game was among the most entertaining of the season through two periods, despite the fact it was scoreless through 40 minutes of play.

A pair of goals in the final two minutes of the third period to give the Flyers a 3-2, come-from-behind win? Well, that was just the icing on the cake in what was undoubtedly the most thrilling win of the season.

“For the last couple minutes fans were going crazy, with a win like that they’re [probably] still on their feet,” said Scott Hartnell in the locker room about 10 minutes after the final horn.

“Chicago has a great team; they move up and down the ice, they’re dangerous, fun to watch. When we’re playing like that we can do a lot of that as well,” added Peter Laviolette. “It was a great hockey game. We’re in a tie game, and to score a goal with a couple seconds left on the clock, it’s exciting.”

Goaltender Michael Leighton, who was drafted by the Blackhawks organization, admitted that the victory was a little more special for him because of that reason.

“Yeah, it makes it even sweeter,” said Leighton, who made some spectacular saves among his 39 in all. “This is a team I haven’t played in a while. I know a few of the guys still, I know the coaches and stuff so I definitely wanted to play well and perform well. I couldn’t be happier with the way things went.”

Leighton also said that the Flyers and the Western Conference’s Blackhawks matchup would be a great playoff series. Of course, in order for that to happen…

“Yeah, I know,” said Leighton with a smile.

More Laviolette

In his post-game press conference, Laviolette was asked to react to Claude Giroux’s composure in making such a pretty pass to Chris Pronger for the easy tap-in goal. Giroux fired a perfect tape-to-tape pass from high in the Flyers’ zone to register the primary assist on the game-winning score.

“I think Claude [Giroux] is a gifted person. That’s why he plays in those situations,” said the head coach. “Everyone has their strengths and I think his is his ability to find people and make those plays, and he’s made plenty of those plays this year. It’s just kind of logical for everybody why he’s there.”

Laviolette also made a couple of notable line changes for the game, after seeing his club lose 5-1 to Boston on Thursday night.

Back in the lineup was Ville Leino, who played with Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk. Also, Hartnell was moved to a line with Giroux and Danny Briere.

“I made some changes to the lineup, moving things around because I wanted more movement. I think after tonight I saw more movement offensively, more attacks,” he said. “We had a lot of good opportunities for scoring; I think it was pretty even. I think we’ve been searching for that since we got back from break, and I’ll have to look at tape and work from that.”

Friday, March 12
2:32 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

There were a couple notable changes to the Flyers’ lines today for the practice session at the Skate Zone in Voorhees. Ville Leino will get a chance to play his third game as a Flyer on the wing with Jeff Carter and James van Riemsdyk, while Claude Giroux will likely center Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell.

Leino and Carter showed good chemistry the last time they played together on March 5 in Buffalo. Even though the Flyers dropped that game, 3-2, it may have been their best game as a team since the end of the Olympic break, and the Carter line was dominant despite not getting on the scoreboard.

Of course, Carter has been dominant in and of himself lately, with 10 goals in the last 10 games. Leino is excited to get the chance to play with Carter once again.

“He can score, he can make plays, and is a dominant skater,” said Leino of the Flyers’ leading scorer. “He’s one of the best players in the league, not just the team. Obviously, it’s fun to play with him.”

Leino would like to build on the strong game they had in Buffalo, even though the winger on the other side will be van Riemsdyk this time around rather than Danny Briere, who was on that line against the Sabres.

“Our line created a lot of chances and we were playing all the time in their end,” he said. “When you’re playing with guys like Carter, he can score, and you can score, too, so we just have to keep doing what we were doing.”

Laviolette was asked what he has seen from Leino in the short time he has been here. Leino was acquired from Detroit in early February in exchange for Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.

“He’s a hard working guy that’s got some skill. He should help to contribute offensively,” said the head coach.

Laviolette did not mention who would come out of the lineup, although it appears to be Arron Asham. The Mike Richards and Blair Betts lines remained the same in practice. He did make it clear, though, that he is certainly not pinning the 5-1 loss to the Bruins on Thursday night on any single player, instead joking that he “called the league and they won’t let me dress 21 players.”

As always, changes in the lines are designed to get a team’s offense going and create a little more urgency in its game. That’s something Laviolette thinks has been missing a little bit lately, as Philadelphia is 3-2-1 since the break ended.

“I liked the way we were playing going into the break. Since we’ve come back from the break, the game has been inconsistent,” he said. “Last night, it was too loose and there wasn’t enough commitment to the battles and the puck. It was really unacceptable this time of year. This is where we want to be tuning our game as we prepare [for the playoffs], and last night we didn’t do that.”

The weekend will not get any easier for Philadelphia, who will host the second place team in the Western Conference on Saturday afternoon in the Chicago Blackhawks (1:00 p.m., CSN), and will visit the playoff-hungry New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday (3:00 p.m., CSN).

Although the Chicago game could be viewed as a measuring stick of sorts, the Flyers would like to concentrate more on their own game and taking care of the things they can control.

“They’re a top team in the Western Conference and in the league so obviously it’s a good measurement for us to see where we are, but I’m more worried about our game than them,” said Kimmo Timonen. “We have to play our hockey, which is skate hard, work hard, forecheck hard and hopefully create some turnovers that way.”

“I’m excited that they’re coming in here,” added Laviolette. “We have an opportunity to play one of the best teams in the West. Is it a measuring stick? I don’t know. I want to play them.”

Other notes

Laviolette did not say who would be in goal tomorrow afternoon against Chicago. Brian Boucher was the first one off of the ice this afternoon. … According to CSNPhilly.com, Dan Carcillo avoided a suspension for contact with a linesman last night against Boston. … With just seven home games left in the regular season, great seats remain for the games against Atlanta on Sunday, March 21 and Minnesota on Thursday, March 25. To check out availability, click here.

Thursday, March 11
10:44 p.m. - Philadephia, PA

Much has been made about the potential rule change in the NHL that would outlaw blindsided hits to the head. That being said, we don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Paul Holmgren met with the media prior to tonight’s game to speak on the subject to offer his perspective.

Holmgren was part of a small group of general managers asked to review the topic and report back to the larger group at the meetings that recently concluded in Boca Raton, Florida.

“I was in the small group that covered head shots, and we broke down a lot more in that particular meeting. It’s very interesting the different things we talked about and the way we hashed around back and forth,” said Holmgren. “It was pretty intense.”

Holmgren mentioned that with the post-lockout changes to the game, combined with the speed in which it is played, opened up the ice and made players more vulnerable to big hits.

“A lot of the things you used to be able to do to defend, like hook someone or put your arm around someone…we took a lot of those things away, so now all they can do is hit,” he explained. “I think that’s what’s so important about moving forward with this proposal that we’ve put forth, is that the game has changed and we’ve got to look at this differently. 

“There’s been a lot of hits that make general managers uncomfortable and uneasy about the game, and I think players, too, just by judging by their comments and the guys I’ve talked to.”

Holmgren mentioned that the Mike Richards hit on David Booth on October would probably be a penalty should the rule change go through.

Reaction to Boston loss

There wasn’t much to say after the 5-1 home loss to the Bruins tonight. Here’s a small sampling from the locker room:

Chris Pronger: “I think we all need to be better, from me all the way down. It was a very big game. They were four points behind us. There was a chance for us to distance ourselves from them, and for whatever reason, (we) didn’t come up with a very good effort at all. You know, I think the last couple of games we teased ourselves with getting two wins (against) teams that are below us, and not playing very well. Fortunately for us, we were able to win those games, but we didn’t make it easy on ourselves, and tonight it came back to haunt us.”

Ian Laperriere: “We should be desperate. We have [16] games to go, and we should be preparing for the real season, playing 60 minutes hockey as a team. We haven’t been doing that for a while.  We got away with [it with] our talent, and with Tampa Bay we took over in the third period because we get talented players there and we score on the power play. But, you just can’t do that. We need to play a good 60 minute game.”

Peter Laviolette: “I didn’t like our game. The game is about the puck, and what you do when you have it, and how you play when you want to get it back. We were second to it all night. They were first, we were second; and when we did get there, we didn’t stay in the battle. We breezed in and breezed out. It’s a competitive game and theirs was higher than ours was tonight. They were quicker and they competed harder for it.”

The defeat ended Philadelphia’s five-game home winning streak, and the club will try and get back on track on Saturday afternoon against possibly the best team in the Western Conference – the Chicago Blackhawks (1:00 p.m., CSN).

* * *

10:55 a.m. - Philadelphia, PA

With the Flyers’ insanely busy schedule in the month of March, Peter Laviolette once again decided not to have a morning skate or even a team meeting this morning, same as he did on Tuesday. Instead, the club has had brisk, short, full-team practices on its off-days and the players simply report to the rink in the evening on game days.

Obviously, managing rest is going to be a key down the stretch with so many games in such a short period of time. Counting tonight, Philadelphia has 11 games over the next 17 days, with no more than one day off between matches.

The Bruins, however, did skate today at the Wachovia Center as they try to hang on to the eighth and final playoff spot. The lowest scoring team in the NHL, Boston is now going to have to play without arguably its best offensive player in Marc Savard. Savard was the victim of the well-publicized hit by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke on Sunday, suffering a Grade 2 concussion that likely ended his season.

(Note: the Bruins posted video of their GM, Peter Chairelli, talking about Cooke not getting suspended for the hit. To watch, click here).

Furthermore, defenseman Zdeno Chara and forward Steve Begin both missed Boston’s practice yesterday, and are questionable for tonight.

Peter Laviolette said yesterday that despite losing Savard, and possibly some other key components, he expects the Bruins to play hard.

“There’s no question that when you start removing pieces from your lineup, especially ones that have a bigger impact, you’ll feel it. But, that’s not to say that teams haven’t rallied around situations where their star player has been out of the lineup,” said Laviolette, who went on to mention last year’s New Jersey Devils had an outstanding regular season despite missing Martin Brodeur for most of the year.

“I know that they’re going to come in here and play hard tomorrow. They’re going to give everything they’ve got because they are in the playoff race. I don’t think they’re going to quit and pack it in because they lost a player. We’ll have our hands full.”

Laviolette has proven that he doesn’t like to change things around when the team is winning, so it’s likely he will go with the same lineup that has produced victories in the last two games. Overall, the Flyers are 7-1-1 in their last nine, counting the four-game winning streak heading into the Olympic break.

One player who doesn’t seem too concerned about rest is goaltender Michael Leighton, who has started all four games since the end of the break and 12 straight overall. Leighton is 15-3-2 with a 2.28 goals against average and .924 save percentage with the Flyers since being claimed off of waivers from Carolina in December.

“I haven’t played as many games as some of the other guys. You look at [Calgary goalie Miikka] Kiprusoff and those guys, they’ve played almost every game,” said Leighton.

“I’m not tired. I feel good. We have [17 games left], and if I had the opportunity I’d like to play them all, if I could.”

Wednesday, March 10
2:20 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

The hot topic around the league at the moment, especially with the club general managers meeting in Florida, is hits to the head. Should they be taken out of the game? Should players be penalized for hitting other players with a blindside shoulder to the head in open ice, like Mike Richards on David Booth in October?

Today, it was revealed that the GMs have proposed a rule, saying:

"A lateral, back pressure or blindside hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted. A violation of the above will result in a minor or major penalty and shall be reviewed for possible supplemental discipline."

The recommendation is still a long way from being passed, as it now has to go through the league and NHLPA competition committees. Some of the players in the Flyers locker room today were asked about what they think of open ice hits to the head, and what, if anything, should be done.

As usual, Chris Pronger was the most candid. Here’s what he had to say:

“Some of the [hits] near the boards probably could be addressed, but open ice hits are hard. Both players are going at such a speed that it’s difficult to readjust. If a player moves one way you might get him in the head, and if he moves another way you might get him in the shoulder. Or, sometimes you miss him and you see knees-on-knees.”

Pronger gave the impression that he isn’t necessarily in favor of changing the current rules.

“So, you’re going to let up when a guy has his head down, so then he beats you to the net and scores a goal in a big playoff game or a crucial game towards the tail end of the regular season? Then, you’re getting critiqued by the media and the fans: why didn’t you hit him?

“It’s a lose-lose if a player lets up on somebody and something bad happens against his team like a goal or penalty. You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. It’s a fine line. I haven’t seen the rule and I don’t know what they want to institute, but any rule is going to have its ups and its downsides.”

On the other side of the coin, Danny Briere reacted as if he’s in favor of some sort of regulation, after seeing the Penguins’ Matt Cooke take out Boston’s Marc Savard recently, sidelining the Bruins’ star for what could be the rest of the season.

“I’m for it, just to protect guys,” said Briere. “The players are getting bigger and faster and stronger, and the last few years a lot of those injuries have happened with blindside hits where players just hit other players’ heads and that’s where it gets a little dangerous, when you only clip the head. If you hit the whole body, that’s a different story.

“The perfect example is the Matt Cooke hit on Marc Savard. If [Cooke] goes through the body he takes him out of the play, and Savard probably doesn’t get hurt. Because he only clipped his head, that’s when it gets dangerous. That’s what I believe we have to try to erase.”

More on Leighton

Another topic that’s been beaten to death a little bit lately is goaltender Michael Leighton and his impressive play. Today though, Leighton and Peter Laviolette were asked about how new goaltending coach Jeff Reese has helped Leighton become such a steady presence in the crease.

Reese joined the Flyers over the summer, coming from Tampa Bay, where he served in the same role with the Lightning for the previous eight seasons.

“I think Jeff has an easy disposition about him. He’s a good teacher,” said Laviolette. “I think it’s easy for the goalies to establish communication in a relationship to get that trust going back and forth with one another. I think Jeff’s done a really good job, and obviously Michael is the one in there stopping the puck so he deserves some credit.”

Leighton said that Reese identified what the Flyers needed in a goaltender for their style of play, and helped Leighton become that goalie.

“Jeff kind of knew what this team needed and changed me around a little bit. Things have worked out,” said Leighton, who will start again tomorrow night against Boston (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets). “The team seems to respond to the way I play, [is] there for rebounds and blocking shots when I need them. So, it’s been a good fit.”

At 28-years-old, Leighton could be classified as a late bloomer. It’s something that is more common among goalies that may not have been given an opportunity in the past to show what they can do when given multiple starts.

The perfect example of that is the man that could be in net for the Bruins tomorrow night in Tim Thomas. The defending Vezina Trophy winner played in just four NHL games in his career before the 2005-06 season, but steadily improved before posting a 36-11-7 record last year, with a 2.10 goals against average and stellar .933 save percentage at the ripe old age of 34.

“You look at a guy like that who battled his whole career and finally got a chance, and made the most of it,” said Leighton of Thomas. “I don’t know if I’m at that caliber, but the team and me seem to fit well.”

Tuesday, March 9
11:19 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Things didn’t look good early for the Philadelphia Flyers. Not only was the team trailing the last place New York Islanders, but Lukas Krajicek, James van Riemsdyk and Dan Carcillo all suffered different injuries that had them in the locker room instead of on the ice before the opening period was over.

Krajicek got smoked in the face by a wrist shot from New York’s Frans Nielsen less than four minutes into the game, leaving a good amount of blood on the frozen surface. He returned.

Van Riemsdyk also had to go off for repairs at one point after a puck to the chin, but the injury that looked the worst was to Carcillo. The Flyers’ agitator got cut with a skate while drilling New York’s Tim Jackman, and held his knee area while quickly hustling to the bench – never a good sign for an athlete, in any sport.

While all of the doomsday scenarios about Carcillo’s knee made their way through the press box, midway through the second period he returned. Coincidentally or not, Jeff Carter scored shortly after and the comeback was a go.

Trailing 2-1 before a pair of third period power play goals gave them a 3-2 win, it was just the second time all season that the Flyers have erased a deficit after 40 minutes (2-17-0). They improved to 6-19-0 when allowing the first goal of the game.

“I don’t think we played very well for the first period and then we kind of turned things around for the second,” said Carcillo, who received 27 stitches above his knee. “We knew [if we] got one [goal] they’ll pinch up and get a little tighter, and then we got two [when] they took a bad penalty and we capitalized.”

“I thought halfway through the second period, once the guys came back to the bench, we got back into a rhythm,” said Peter Laviolette. “I thought we really started to press again in the offensive zone, and I thought our D did a good job of keeping the play in on the walls in the offensive zone and started to attack the net more.”

Philadelphia essentially dominated the game after Kyle Okposo’s goal halfway through the second period made it 2-0, managing to beat a young, pesky Islanders team for the 15th straight time – the longest active streak of victories by one team over another in the NHL.

Laviolette cautioned before the game that the Islanders would put in a good effort and the Flyers would have to match their work ethic. He was surely content with what he saw from the Flyers, as the club was able to battle through a shortened bench to keep the game within striking distance.

“The Islanders are a good hockey team, they play the game hard, and if you look past them because you’ve got Boston or Chicago down the road, you are going to find yourself in a lot of trouble,” said the coach. “I thought we did a good job staying in this game here and staying focused on it.”

Laviolette was referring to the Flyers’ next two opponents on Thursday and Saturday as the Flyers wrap up a four-game homestand.

“Hopefully we can keep going and keep rolling,” said Claude Giroux, whose 14th goal of the year tied the game in the third period.

* * *

5:36 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Peter Laviolette will go with the same lineup tonight against the Islanders as he did during Sunday’s 3-1 win over Toronto. That means it will be Michael Leighton in goal, with Oskars Bartulis and Ville Leino serving as the healthy scratches.

Leighton is 6-0-1 in his last 8 starts, posting a 2.38 goals against average and .923 save percentage with one no-decision over that span.

Darroll Powe, who has taken Dan Carcillo’s place on the team’s fourth line with Blair Betts and Ian Laperriere since Dan Carcillo was bumped up to play alongside Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, has allowed that line to continue its energetic and effective play. Laviolette mentioned that line on many nights ends up seeing just as much even-strength time as the Claude Giroux-centered third line.

“You manage to keep your lines fresh and have more options on your bench when you have a line like that,” said the head coach.

Laviolette also mentioned that he doesn’t put much stock in the Flyers’ 15-game winning streak over the Islanders.

“I don’t put a lot in to streaks. I don’t know how that really plays into a game,” he said moments ago. “The Islanders have a really good team. They play teams tough.

“They play an aggressive game, and any time you play the Islanders and aren’t prepared to work, you probably won’t find success. Work-ethic has got to be at the forefront of what we want to do tonight.”

One quick reminder: tonight's game is a 7:30 start and can be seen nationally on Versus.

Monday, March 8
2:15 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

Lost a little bit among the physicality and emotion of last night’s 3-1 win over Toronto is the fact that Jeff Carter reached the 30-goal plateau for the second time in as many years.

While it’s true that Carter will not likely reach his career high of 46 last season, the 25-year-old has been leading the Flyers offense for several weeks now. His play lately, with eight goals in the last eight games, is one of the biggest reasons that Philadelphia is 6-1-1 over that span.

“My legs are starting to feel really good, and I’m starting to skate pretty good,” he said. “When I’m skating I’m getting chances, so [hopefully] it just keeps getting better.”

After getting off to a bit of a slow start this season, Carter appears to be hitting his stride – a scary thought for opposing goaltenders.

“He’s been jumping, he’s been hitting and he’s been scoring,” said frequent linemate Scott Hartnell after Monday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “I think he was a little frustrated the first 30 games, but it comes and goes. Right now he’s putting the puck in the net, and it’s huge for him.”

Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who works with the team’s forwards, credits Carter for staying with his game and not getting too down when pucks weren’t hitting the back of the twine.

“The chances were there and he just kept with it, and now they’re going in. If he wasn’t getting chances and he wasn’t shooting the puck, then you’d worry about it,” said Berube. “He stays with it. He’s good about that. He doesn’t try to change. He knows he was getting his chances and he knows the puck would go in eventually.”

Carter is clearly at his best when he is skating well, and is among the team’s fastest North-South players. That was evident during one moment in Buffalo on Friday, when Carter looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he skated from the top of the defensive circles into the Sabres’ zone to grab a loose puck and create a two-on-one with Ville Leino, even though they didn’t convert it to a goal.

One theory on his play is that the London, Ontario native is still a little ticked off that he wasn’t named to Canada’s Olympic team, instead acting as the first alternate.

“I’m sure he was upset about not making the team. I would be,” said Berube. “If you’re a competitive guy you want to make the team, and I think maybe a slow start was probably the cause of that.”

“I don’t know if he was a little down that he actually didn’t get to play,” added Hartnell. “Some say he should have deserved to be there and I think he should have been there. He’s playing better for it, and good. He’s got something to prove.”

Boucher staying positive

Brian Boucher will start a game before the end of the season. When that will be he's not certain, but the goaltender is doing his best to prepare for when the time comes.

It has been more than two months since Boucher’s last start on Dec. 21 vs. Florida – a 4-1 loss in which he suffered a lacerated finger and is generally seen as the low point of the season.

When Ray Emery was healthy and starting, Boucher acted as the third goalie and was not dressing for several games, as Leighton was the backup. Emery’s season-ending hip malady ensures that Boucher will at least be in the lineup from here on out.

“It’s better to be doing what I’m doing [now] than being the #3 guy. That was no fun, obviously,” he said. “Still, when you’re an athlete you’d like to compete and be a part of some games. That makes you feel good, so hopefully that will happen soon.”

Boucher has come on in relief of Leighton twice since his last start: Jan. 3 at Ottawa, and on Wednesday in Florida. In both games, the Flyers scored just enough goals to give him the hard-luck loss.

Richards hit not comparable to Pens' Cooke

There’s plenty of talk around the league today about Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cooke’s hit on Boston’s Marc Savard, resulting in a concussion for Savard yesterday. There have also been some comparisons made between that hit and the one that Mike Richards laid on Florida’s David Booth in October.

Although they look somewhat similar at first glance, there are some major differences; the biggest of which is that Richards keeps his elbow tucked to his body and makes contact with his shoulder, while Cooke appeared to hit Savard with an extended forearm.

Richards was not suspended for the hit, while Cooke is likely to sit for a while.

For another opinion, check out the Puck Daddy blog on Yahoo! sports:

Geographically, both occurred near the blue line in the offensive zone. But that's where the comparison ends. Richards isn't skating by, sticking out his arm. Booth quickly dished the puck rather than having shot it like Savard. They're two completely different hits, and that's a good thing: The Richards check, as devastating as it was, was a hockey play by a Selke-worthy forward; the Cooke hit was a cheap, late hit by a player who excels at them.

Sunday, March 7
10:46 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

For most of Dan Carcillo’s early career, he made headlines with his fists. Lately, he’s making them with his head and his hands.

Carcillo drew an early four-minute penalty tonight to Colton Orr, who was trying to goad the Flyers’ agitator into taking a penalty of his own in the first period. Although the Flyers didn’t convert, the power play was extended later with a few more penalties by the Leafs, and Jeff Carter tallied on a two-man advantage to give Philadelphia a 1-0 lead.

The undisciplined Carcillo from a year ago may have taken Orr's bait. The 2010 version kept his cool, and it was to the benefit of his teammates. As always, his post-game comments were wildly entertaining after the 3-1 home victory over Toronto.

“That guy [Orr], I‘m just never going to fight him. I mean, he plays three minutes a night; he doesn’t really do anything unless somebody fights him,” said Carcillo. “I kind of knew he was going to run me there, and then I suckered him into a few [penalties], and luckily, we scored a little bit later.”

Orr finished the game with 6:46 of ice time, and six minutes in penalties.

Carcillo got into some hot water in an earlier game with Toronto, when he scored a beautiful goal and mocked the Toronto bench as if he was going to high-five the Leafs' players on January 6 at the Wachovia Center. That may be part of the reason that he seemed to have a target on his back for most of the evening.

His goal that night right after Orr tried to get him to take a penalty, too. It’s probably safe to say that Orr was been extremely ineffective against Carcillo and the Flyers this season.

“They’re doing it every game that we play them, every whistle. I mean, that’s all they’ve got right now. What do they have, you know? That’s all they’re going to do," said Carcillo.

“They’re just going to try and get up under your skin and make us take penalties. And we knew that. That’s just the type of team they are right now, and we’re just not buying into it. We’ve got bigger things to worry about.”

Carcillo, who had the primary assist on Simon Gagne’s tiebreaking goal in the second, also impressed his head coach.

“You ask those guys to play on the edge, a guy like Danny Carcillo, to agitate and irritate, to be effective in that job. It’s a fine line that he has to walk, and I think he’s done an excellent job,” said Peter Laviolette.

“You saw what he did today, he was able to draw penalties. I thought he had a terrific game for us tonight.”

* * *

5:18 p.m. - Philadelphia, PA

Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette won’t make any changes to his defense for tonight’s game, despite Oskars Bartulis’ return to health.

“I think it’s important to get Ryan [Parent] in there and get him back into shape,” he said moments ago. “I thought he’s gotten better every game, so he’ll go back in tonight.”

Parent himself recently returned from an injury of his own, missing 24 straight games with a back injury before playing on March 2 in Tampa Bay.

Darroll Powe, who missed the last two games with a bruised left foot, will be back in tonight. He takes the place of Ville Leino, who had a couple of strong games in his first action as a Flyer since he was acquired from Detroit a month ago.

Laviolette expects tonight’s Flyers-Leafs game to be a pretty heated affair, and apparently wants Powe’s grittiness on display.

“I thought it was important to get a lineup in there that has enough sandpaper tonight,” he said. “It’s probably going to be a competitive game. There’s probably going to be a lot of one-on-one battles for the puck, physical and hard-hitting.”

In need of a forward for tonight, the Leafs recalled Jay Rosehill, he of three points and 146 penalty minutes in 31 games with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies this season. Rosehill has two points and 57 penalty minutes in 14 games with the Leafs this year.

He takes the place of Fredrik Sjostrom, who was hurt in Toronto’s 2-1 shootout win in Ottawa last night.

* * *

10:22 a.m. – Philadelphia, PA
Flyers defenseman Oskars Bartulis has been cleared to return to action after missing the first three games of the post-Olympic break schedule.

Bartulis, who suited up for his home country of Latvia in the Vancouver games, returned from the Olympics with flu symptoms and a slight groin strain. He did not accompany the team on its recently completed three-game road trip.

"I am good to go. I have had four days of good skating and I feel pretty good,” he said. “We will see what happens come [Sunday] from the morning skate.”

The Flyers played a strong defensive game on Friday in Buffalo despite the 3-2 overtime defeat, so it is unclear as of this morning if Bartulis will be in the lineup tonight against Toronto (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets). The defenseman is turning in a fine rookie campaign since being recalled from the Phantoms early in the season. He has eight assists and 26 penalty minutes in 46 games.

Bartulis also had a chance to reflect on his Olympic experience for a Latvian team that was short on NHL talent, but still managed to take the Czech Republic into overtime before being knocked out of the competition.

“It was something new and it was fun to be there,” said Bartulis. “I wish we would have won that last game where it was so close, but hockey is hockey. It was good for my experience and I loved it there and my family loved it there.

“We met a lot of people, a lot of athletes from other sports. It was fun.”

Friday, March 5
11:42 p.m. – Buffalo, NY

It’s safe to say that the Flyers probably deserved a better fate in their 3-2 overtime loss in Buffalo on Friday night.

First and foremost, head coach Peter Laviolette wanted to see a better defensive effort from his club (not surprisingly) after a 7-4 defeat to the Florida Panthers in the team’s previous contest. He got that.

“I thought it was better,” said the head coach. “The first period [Buffalo] had lots of shots but they were from the outside and the points so they were the right areas. Second period, not much. Third period they had a couple opportunities, but…better.”

“I thought we played well, and for the most part kept everything to the outside,” added captain Mike Richards, whose 26th goal of the season in the third period gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead they were unable to hold.

Secondly, Laviolette was hoping for a strong rebound performance from his goaltender, Michael Leighton, who was pulled in the loss in Florida. Leighton was outstanding for the majority of the game. An odd miscommunication between he and Chris Pronger led to the first Sabres goal, while a Matt Carle turnover allowed Buffalo to tie the game late.

Leighton finished with 32 saves, including a couple of the highlight-reel variety. He dove across the crease to stop Tim Connolly in the second period, and flashed the leather again on Jason Pominville to at least get the game into overtime when the score was 2-2.

“Michael Leighton did a really good job. He bounced back and gave us an opportunity to win the hockey game,” said Laviolette. “He made some big saves and we walk out with a point.”

Finally, Laviolette made some noticeable changes in his lines. The biggest move was putting recently acquired forward Ville Leino up front with Jeff Carter and Danny Briere. Although the trio didn’t score, it was probably Philadelphia’s best and most energetic line of the night.

“I thought it was good. They generated a lot. Ville did a good job on that line,” said Laviolette.

To make room for Leino, Scott Hartnell was put on the Claude Giroux-James van Riemsdyk line, while Arron Asham skated with Ian Laperriere and Blair Betts. Darroll Powe (bruised foot) and Oskars Bartulis (slight groin strain) remained out for Philadelphia.

Despite the positives, though, the Flyers left a valuable point on the board by not being able to hold on to the late lead. That will leave a bad taste in their mouths until Philadelphia hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday night in the first of a four-game homestand (7:00 p.m., CSN, Tickets).

“They’re a good team and we have to give them credit, but we definitely could have won this game,” said Leighton. “We played well and [Ryan] Miller made some good saves for them, and it just didn’t bounce our way tonight.”

“What’s frustrating and disappointing is the fact that you’re up 2-1 with five minutes to go, and points are a hot commodity right now,” concluded Laviolette.

Laliberte featured

Adirondack Phantoms forward David Laliberte is currently being featured on the AHL’s website in its On The Beat feature. To check out the article by Owen Newkirk, click here.

* * *

12:55 p.m. – Buffalo, NY

With a complete day off yesterday due to a flight up the East Coast from Ft. Lauderdale to Buffalo, the Flyers gathered this morning at the HSBC Arena in Buffalo for a full-team pregame skate. The Sabres host Philadelphia tonight (7:30 p.m., TCN) as the Flyers conclude their three-game road trip coming out of the Olympic break.

The goal tonight will be to try and move on from Wednesday night’s lopsided 7-4 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers – a loss that ended the team’s five-game winning streak.

So, Ian Laperriere, was that loss just a blip on the radar for a team that had been playing so well lately, especially defensively?

“I sure hope so,” he said. “Sometimes you get too confident and you forget about what got you there in the first place. I think it was a reality check and hopefully that will wake us up.

“We made careless mistakes and saw what we did on the tape and we’ll try not to do the same things. If we stick to the game plan, we’re talented enough to be in the game most of the time. That last game was one we’ll try to forget.”

Blair Betts added that although the team wants to put that game in the rear-view mirror, there are lessons to be learned.

“Even the game before against Tampa, we had been giving up more opportunities against than we’d like to,” said Betts of the Flyers, who had given up two goals or less in the previous nine games before Wednesday.

“Obviously, we’re playing a great team tonight, and we’re going to have to be a lot better.”

The lone bright spot to come out of Wednesday night was the Flyers debut of forward Ville Leino. Acquired from the Detroit Red Wings on February 6, Leino had been a healthy scratch for the first six games of his Flyers career. Darroll Powe’s bruised left foot provided Leino an opportunity to show what he can do, and he tallied a goal and was a plus-2 in less than 10 minutes of ice time.

He’ll be back in the lineup tonight against the Sabres.

“It was kind of a good start, so I got a little self-confidence getting back to that game feeling. I’m excited to play again tonight,” he said.

“I’m just trying to get myself noticeable, play my own game and build my self-confidence, work hard and have a good effort.”

Also of note is that Michael Leighton will get the call in net tonight, and defenseman Oskars Bartulis remains out with a groin injury and is not with the team.

Tuesday, March 2

2:01 p.m. – Tampa, FL

Ryan Parent will make his return to the Flyers blue line tonight as the team resumes the regular season against the Lightning (7:30 p.m, Versus). Parent has missed the last 24 games, and had minimally invasive back surgery on Jan. 25.

Ironically enough, Parent’s last game was on December 23 here at the St. Pete Times Forum in a 5-2 Flyers win. Parent, who has two assists and 14 penalty minutes in 28 games this season, will be paired with Braydon Coburn.

Defenseman Oskars Bartulis, however, is out of the lineup due to an injury he sustained in the Olympics while playing for Latvia. Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren gave the following update on Bartulis this morning:

“When Oskars returned from Vancouver he had flu-like symptoms, and he also complained of some soreness in his groin,” said Holmgren. “He had an MRI on his groin that did not show damage. He remained in Philadelphia for rehab and is listed as day-to-day with a slight groin strain.”

Bartulis has eight assists and 26 penalty minutes in 46 games after being called up from the Adirondack Phantoms early this season.

Tonight’s game will also mark the first time that defenseman Lukas Krajicek faces his former team. Krajicek was signed by the Flyers on Jan. 31, after the Lightning sent him to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals for a stretch.

Krajicek has found a home in Philadelphia alongside steady defenseman Kimmo Timonen, and has been an effective player for a team whose defense has allowed two goals or less in eight straight games entering tonight.

It’s been a pretty seamless transition.

“Everybody has been trying to help me out so everything has been fairly easy,” he said of his life as a Flyer so far. “They put me on the second pair with Timonen, and that makes it pretty easy on you.”

Krajicek played 94 games for the Lightning over parts of the last two seasons.

“[Tonight is] not the first time that I played against my old team, but it’s a bunch of guys that I know really well. I just want to have fun out there and play the game.”

Monday, March 1
1:15 p.m. – Voorhees, NJ

The Philadelphia Flyers had one final practice today at home this morning as they prepare for the final stretch of the regular season, beginning with Tuesday’s matchup in Tampa Bay against the Lightning (7:30 p.m., Versus). The three-game road trip features games in Florida on Wednesday and Buffalo on Friday, before the club returns home to host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday, March 7.

The talk around the locker room today, however, centered on the conclusion of the exciting Olympic tournament last night in which Canada defeated the USA in overtime, 3-2, to capture the Gold Medal. Mike Richards and Chris Pronger were members of the victorious squad, and are scheduled to meet the team in Tampa later today (we’ll get video of their media availability up by the end of the day).

Simon Gagne won gold with Canada in 2002, and was happy for his teammates. Hopefully, that winning feeling they experienced will carry over to the Flyers’ final 22 games, he explained.

“When you see Richie and Prongs on the ice, you root for them,” he said. “They are going to bring a lot of confidence in their game winning that Gold Medal. Having them win [the Gold Medal] is an experience that they now have, and I think it will be a plus for them and a plus for [the Flyers].”

No one expects it to be easy for Richards, Pronger, and Kimmo Timonen (who won a Bronze Medal with Finland) to get going again for what is a brutal month, schedule-wise, for Philadelphia. The club plays 16 games in just 27 days.

Peter Laviolette said today that it is all about individual preparation when it comes to how the players deal with the challenge.

“I’m sure there have been lots of cases where players have come back and not performed well because maybe they are dragging, and there’s been cases where players have come back and played really well,” said the coach. “It [is a reflection] of the player and the person.”

“I know it’s going to be tough, especially early on, after such an emotional high to get back playing NHL regular season games,” added Danny Briere. “As we get into the playoff [race] and the games get bigger and bigger, I think that’s where their experience will probably [help].”

The Flyers sit in sole possession of sixth place in the Eastern Conference, and Laviolette emphasized that this is no time to feel comfortable.

“We shouldn’t be fooled by our spot in the standings. We’re in a dogfight down the stretch,” he said. “A bad week could really turn things around, so we need to be ready and make sure we have all hands on deck.”

There was agreement around the locker room that although the break was nice, it is time to get going again. The Flyers were pleased with the way they were playing going into the Olympic break with four straight wins, but with more than two weeks off, tomorrow’s game with the Lightning is a new beginning of sorts.

“We all know with the break that can stop the momentum, so it’s almost like a new start,” said Gagne. “We’re looking forward to playing that first game to see where we are at. You don’t know how you’re going to react after a long break like that, but the way we were playing, confidence should be on our side.”

James van Riemsdyk added: “We just have to start right out where we finished before the break, and keep the ball rolling.”

Good day for hockey

There is plenty of buzz on the internet and the blogs today regarding the astronomical ratings that the USA-Canada Gold Medal game garnered on NBC.

According to Sports Media Watch:

“Sunday's game drew a higher overnight rating than every World Series game since 2004 (including every game of Yankees/Phillies last year), every NBA Finals telecast since 1998, and every NCAA Men's Basketball Final Four game since at least '98.

Excluding the NFL, the 17.6 overnight for the game is the second-highest of the year for any sporting event, behind only the Texas/Alabama BCS National Championship Game in January (18.2).”

There’s no question that it was a good day for the sport of hockey.

“I think any time you see a sporting event like that, it’s good for the game,” said Laviolette. “Kids see that, and they want to start playing hockey and want to get involved in hockey. It was a positive day for the NHL, ice hockey, USA Hockey and Hockey Canada. It was positive all the way around.”

“I think it was a great game for everybody; not just Canadians, but for Americans,” added Gagne. “It was a great show going to overtime, and you can’t ask for a better scenario.”