The crowded race at the top of the East has Philadelphia trailing conference-leading Tampa Bay by one point. Next in the standings is Boston, two points behind the Lightning, while Toronto is three back and Ottawa four back.
Tampa visits Toronto on Thursday while Ottawa plays at Boston.
“Our goal is to win the division first,” said right wing Mark Recchi, whose Flyers have a six-point lead over New Jersey in the Atlantic. “If there’s an opportunity to be first in the conference, we learned from last year that you have to try to get the highest seed you can.”
The Flyers settled for the No. 4 seed last season after finishing a point behind the Devils for the division crown, and went through a grueling seven-game series with Toronto in the first round of the playoffs. Philadelphia bowed out to Ottawa in the next round.
Philadelphia faces a Carolina team tied for the fourth-fewest points in the East. Plus, the Flyers have lost only once in the last 14 meetings with the Hurricanes (9-1-4).
That doesn’t mean Carolina will roll over.
The Hurricanes have been playing well, recording at least a point in six straight. They are coming off a 3-0-0-2 road trip, which included wins over Tampa Bay and Ottawa.
Carolina beat the Senators 3-2 on Saturday thanks to Bret Hedican’s goal with 59.3 seconds left in overtime.
“This was a big character builder for us,” said Carolina’s Sean Hill, who scored his fourth goal in five games. “For us to beat them at this time of year is a bit of a feather in our cap.”
This is the first game between these teams since the Flyers traded winger Justin Williams to the Hurricanes for defenseman Danny Markov on Jan. 20. Williams has five goals and nine assists in 26 games with Carolina.
Markov has just five points with Philadelphia, but maybe more importantly, he has yet to miss a game with his new team.