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Flyers-Penguins: Back to the Pile Edition

Mar 30, 2011, 11:58 AM EDT

It’s been a rough month for the Flyers,
beginning with a four game losing streak that culminated in a 7-0
beatdown against the Rangers, and since has seen the orange and black
involved in five overtime games, four of which were decided in
shootouts. Only seven games remain until the playoffs begin, and you
might get the feeling they’re just trying to hold on to their seeding at
the top of the Eastern Conference.

Which is where tonight’s tilt comes in. Despite skating without
either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin for the better part of 2011,
Pittsburgh remains hot on the Flyers’ heels in the Atlantic Division, a
mere two points back. That means a loss tonight in regulation could knot
it up, and put the Penguins in serious striking distance to steal the
division.

We probably don’t need to tell you it’s not just a title that could
be on the line. Losing the division lead would send Philadelphia
tumbling to fourth in the conference standings, likely setting them up
for a difficult first round matchup against Tampa Bay. The Lightning
took three of four off the Flyers this season, and would be a dangerous
draw to open the playoffs.

So there’s your worst case scenario.

The Pens’ road isn’t easy. First, they’ll need to win tonight, which
has not proven to be an easy task. Pitt has beaten the Flyers once in a
standard 60 minute game this season and that was all the way back in
October. Even such a victory tonight doesn’t quite even the score
completely, as they have played one more game than Peter Laviolette’s
club at this stage.

The Penguins are still a tough team defensively, and they made the
Flyers work to get the puck in the net last Thursday during their 2-1
shootout win. Without their stars though, Pittsburgh is not nearly as
imposing at the other end of the ice. In their previous four meetings,
either Crosby or Malkin scored or assisted on seven out of the 11 goals
scored against Philly netminders.

On that note, it will be Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes tonight.
There were some doubts over Bob’s play as recently as a week ago, but
the rookie rebounded nicely in the Pens game on Thursday, and picked up
the W against the Islanders over the weekend. He is 2-1-1 versus
Pittsburgh on the season.

While the orange and black failed to earn a point for the first time
in nine games on Sunday, falling to the Bruins 2-1 on home ice, there
was at least one noticable positive to take away from the loss. Kris
Versteeg was everywhere. He played well and hustled both ways, scoring
the club’s lone goal on a beautiful feed from Mike Richards to become
the Flyers’ league leading sixth player to reach 20 goals this season.
That deal seems to be coming along nicely.

That said, lately it feels like the team gets plenty of great
individual efforts on a nightly basis. What’s missing right now, at
least in this observer’s opinion, is continuity. It’s probably still too
soon to get overly concerned about what that means in connection to the
post-season, which is now only a couple weeks away. They may very well
wind up making their road tougher though if they don’t start to figure
it out tonight.

AP Photo