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Flyers vs. Panthers preview: Keeping pace with a sixth straight win?

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Back on home ice, the Flyers look for six straight.

Boston Bruins v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Flyers have won five straight games, and with that they have vaulted back into the NHL playoff conversation, and entering action this evening they sit in that final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

It’ll take another win this evening against the chasing Florida Panthers to keep pace.

These teams have faced off once this season, a 3-1 win for the Flyers in South Florida on November 22. Steve Mason — the NHL’s first star of the week who will again start tonight for the Flyers, his fifth straight -- made 28 saves in that win.

Florida enters tonight’s game on a back-to-back following a 4-3 overtime loss to the Bruins in Boston last night. Roberto Luongo got the start last night for the Cats — his 944th, pushing him to fifth all-time in games started -- so we could see James Reimer this evening. That would be good news: Luongo has been one of the best in the NHL this year with a .926 save percentage in 18 games, while Reimer sits down under 90% with an .896 in nine games. They didn’t have a morning skate, so we’re not sure.

Since we’ve last seen the Panthers, things have been a little weird for them. They fired coach Gerard Gallant after a game in Carolina last week, and there was a lot of backlash after the team seemed to leave him on the curb outside of the arena. (They didn’t, actually -- they called him a car service but he didn’t want to wait.)

The decision to fire Gallant has been a bit of a firestorm in the hockey community, as it’s been propped up as one of the more high-profile examples of analytics outweighing old-school hockey thought in a front office decision. To put way too fine of a point on this, many in the analytics community have believed that Florida was playing over their heads last year in what was the most successful regular season in team history. It didn’t continue this fall as the team regressed. So, bye Gerard.

General manager Tom Rowe is serving as interim head coach for the Panthers.

The Flyers have just one lineup change tonight: Taylor Leier, called up last night from Lehigh Valley, will slot in on the third line and replace the injured Matt Read, who is out four weeks. Leier has a pretty similar skill set to Read and could become a long term option for the Flyers on the bottom six, so these next few weeks are definitely a big audition for him. Let’s hope he makes the best of it.

The defensive pairings are being shaken up a bit. Radko Gudas remains out, and Ivan Provorov will play with Andrew MacDonald tonight. Shayne Gostisbehere is paired with Brandon Manning, and Michael Del Zotto remains with Mark Streit.

Tonight’s game is on CSN Philly locally and 93.3 WMMR. There’s a live stream on CSNPhilly.com as well. In Florida, the game is on FS Florida. Nationally, NHL.tv and NHL Center Ice have your broadcast.

Philadelphia lineup

Forwards
  1. Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek
  2. Travis Konecny - Brayden Schenn - Wayne Simmonds
  3. Taylor Leier - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Dale Weise
  4. Chris VandeVelde - Nick Cousins - Roman Lyubimov
Defense
  1. Ivan Provorov - Andrew MacDonald
  2. Brandon Manning - Shayne Gostisbehere
  3. Michael Del Zotto - Mark Streit
Goalies
  1. Steve Mason
  2. Anthony Stolarz

Scratches: Nick Schultz, Boyd Gordon

Injured: Michal Neuvirth, Sean Couturier, Radko Gudas (illness), Meat Read

Florida lineup

Forwards
  1. Denis Malgin - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
  2. Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Colton Sceviour
  3. Kyle Rau - Nick Bjugstad - Reilly Smith
  4. Shawn Thornton - Derek MacKenzie - Paul Thompson
Defense
  1. Jason Demers - Aaron Ekblad
  2. Mark Pysyk - Michael Matheson
  3. Jakub Kindl - Dylan McIlrath
Goalies
  1. Roberto Luongo
  2. James Reimer