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Flyers vs. Penguins preview: Home-and-home set begins with must-win game

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It's a winnable game against a depleted cross-state rival on Saturday, the first game of a home-and-home weekend set.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Yes, the Penguins are very good. They currently hold a 19 point lead over the Flyers in the standings, and we're only through 65 games on the year.

They are a better team than the Flyers. There's no way around it.

However, there's really no reason the Flyers should lose this game against their cross-state rivals today. You could make a pretty legitimate argument that the Flyers are the better team *today* ... and, well, that's all that matters right now.

Pittsburgh is without the following regular players in this first half of the weekend home-and-home series: Kris Letang, James Neal, Paul Martin, Pascal Dupuis, Beau Bennett and Chris Conner. Lee Stempniak is on their top line. Brian Gibbons is getting power play time. I think I went to high school with Brian Gibbons.

As Kurt put it Friday...

Chris Kunitz - Sidney Crosby - Lee Stempniak
Jussi Jokinen - Evgeni Malkin - Brian Gibbons
Tanner Glass - Brandon Sutter - Marcel Goc
Taylor Pyatt - Joe Vitale - Craig Adams

That is ... uh, not a good lineup.

So this should be a winnable game. The Flyers are coming off of that tough, controversy-filled loss on Tuesday night vs. New Jersey and given the way the standings look entering this weekend, are really going to need at least a split this weekend against Pittsburgh. They currently hold the final wild card spot in the East by two points over Detroit, and are one point behind both Columbus and the New York Rangers for the Nos 2 and 3 spots in the Metropolitan Division.

Steve Mason will be in goal for the Flyers. We'll update with other lineup specifics in a bit, but we shouldn't expect many changes.

There are only 17 games left in the season, and we've already talked about how tough the schedule is from here. It starts today against one of the best teams in the East, but they're depleted, we're on home ice, and this one is feeling pretty much like a must-win. In fact, it's 60 degrees and the Penguins are in town. Might as well start the playoffs now.

It's a 1 p.m. start on CSN in Philly, Root Sports in Pittsburgh and NHL Network everywhere else in America.