Two of the three worst teams in the Eastern Conference will try to keep up their recent solid play when they meet Thursday night in Philadelphia.
Florida (27-27-13), which is 20 points and two spots ahead of last-place Philadelphia in the East, is 13th in the conference and has some work to do to reach the postseason. The Panthers are six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot with 15 games to play.
Hoping to avoid missing the postseason for the sixth straight year, Florida is 7-2-2 in its last 11 games. The team had its season-high winning streak snapped at four with a 4-2 loss at Atlanta on Tuesday.
“They have a lot of good young players over there,” Atlanta forward Keith Tkachuk said. “They are a young team with nothing to lose.”
Philadelphia’s 47 points are still the fewest in the NHL, but the Flyers (18-37-11) have gone 7-6-6 since the break and are 2-0-2 in their last four games.
Philadelphia beat Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey 5-4 in overtime Tuesday for its first win over the Devils in six meetings this season.
“We’re not looking up at the standings,” Philadelphia’s Scottie Upshall said. “We’re just playing hard, playing in-your-face style hockey.”
Upshall, part of the trade that sent Peter Forsberg to Nashville, scored his fourth goal in nine games with Philadelphia.
Simon Gagne scored his team-leading 36th goal in overtime Tuesday as the Flyers avoided a fourth straight home loss. Gagne has 12 goals in his last 13 games, and has scored two in two meetings with Florida this season but Philadelphia lost both.
Flyers goaltender Martin Biron made 37 saves Tuesday in his first home start since being acquired from Buffalo. Biron, who spent more than eight seasons with the Sabres, is 2-0-1 with a 3.14 goals-against average for Philadelphia.
“When the trade was made, I was excited because I knew I liked playing in this building,” Biron said. “It’s a place I’m comfortable in.”
The Panthers averaged 5.3 goals during their four-game winning streak before losing in Atlanta on Tuesday, when they played short-handed much of the night as they matched a season high with 10 penalties.
“We didn’t play much even strength,” Panthers captain Olli Jokinen said. “Both teams were fouling hard. Some fouls weren’t called. The first 20 games, they called everything. Then they go back to the old rules. That’s tough.”
Jokinen had six goals and two assists during the team’s four-game winning streak before being held pointless Tuesday. Teammate Stephen Weiss scored to extend his point streak to five games.
Goalie Ed Belfour suffered his first loss in five games Tuesday, and first regulation loss in eight games since Feb. 14. Belfour was in net for both of Florida’s home victories this season over the Flyers—3-2 on Oct. 20 and 3-1 on Dec. 27.
The Panthers can sweep the season series with a win Thursday and on March 20 in Philadelphia after losing all four meetings last season.