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Gameday: Stretch run begins as Flyers visit Florida

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Philadelphia Flyers (25-12-9, 59 pts) at Florida Panthers (21-17-8, 50 pts)
BankAtlantic Center - 7:30 PM EST - Sunrise, FL
TV: CSN Philly HD, FS Florida
Radio: 610 WIP, XM 209
Check Here for Internet Streams
Behind Enemy Lines: Litter Box Cats

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What to Watch For: The Flyers beat the Panthers just 11 days ago in South Florida by a score of 3-2 in a shootout. Simon Gagne was the hero for the Flyers in that one, scoring a power play goal and the only goal in the shootout. The Flyers start off the second half of the season tonight with exactly the same number of points as they had last year at this time.

As we all know, the team collapsed down the stretch, and lost 10 straight games in February. It was a struggle to regain playoff position, but they did make it and played a great stretch of hockey in the playoffs to get to the Conference Finals as the sixth seed. But they know a similar comeback isn't likely this season, and they can't afford to put themselves in the position. The Flyers need to continue their first half success into April and the playoffs. There cannot be any layoff this season.

But the last few games have perhaps shown an unsettling pattern. In the previous four games before the all-star break, the Flyers jumped out to an early lead before blowing it later in the game. They cannot afford to give up the lead in a game just as they cannot afford to give up an early lead in the standings. Let's hope these recent games are not a microcosm of the overall season.

Philly is just two points behind the Devils heading into the night, and with a Devils loss the Flyers can take sole possession of first place. The Rangers also play tonight, and they would have one more point than the Flyers with a win tonight, but they also have two games in hand. New Jersey has also played one more game than the orange and black.

Quoted

"Everybody who was here last year remembers it and what a frustrating time [the losing streak] was. It's something we can control and something that's not going to happen again." -- Mike Knuble

Luca Sbisa: The Inquirer is reporting today (h/t to Bill Mason in the comments) that Sbisa made the trip with the club. Scratched in four games and from this Stevens quote it looks like he's not in the lineup again, unless necessary. "He makes us better by being here," Stevens said, adding that the defenseman could be used as a forward if the need arises. If the kid is just going to sit around, he should be in Lethbridge. He's 18 -- he needs to be in an everyday lineup... no matter where that is.

Scouting the Enemy: The Panthers are currently sitting in ninth place in the East, tied with 50 points with the Penguins, althoug Pittsburgh has played two extra games. They are just one point out of the playoff picture, and the once strong Jay Bouwmeester-trade talk has died down because of their newfound relavance. James Mirtle has a good post today on J-Bo and his introverted style. (His personality and Harry Potter-looks don't seem very Flyers, but I think I could deal with his hockey.)

Between the Pipes: Martin Biron is going for the Flyers tonight, and given Antero Niittymaki's numbers (4-2, GAA just barely a hair over two) against the Panthers, I feel like this move is a vote of confidence for Biron from John Stevens. It's his message to Biron saying, "hey, it's your job to lose."

Tomas Vokoun is in net for Florida. He's had a below-average season with a 12-13 record but he's 4-1-2 in his last seven. He made 26 saves in the losing effort last time these teams met.

Playoff Chase: Looking around the rest of the Flyers competitors, the Devils are in Ottawa tonight to take on the Senators at 7:30. The Rangers host Carolina at 7, and Montreal joins the Flyers in Florida, cross-state against the Lightning at 7:30.

Questions To Answer

1. Third game in 11 days. How do the Flyers respond to so much time off?

2. Is Luca Sbisa a Philadelphia Flyer?

3. Marty hasn't played since the Tampa Bay game back on the 15th. How sharp is he?

4. The Panthers are in a heated race for the playoffs. A win can potentially push them into that eighth seed. Do they come out blazing?