The Philadelphia Flyers have already made great strides this season after finishing with the worst record in franchise history in 2006-07. Winning in New Jersey for the first time in almost four years would be yet another big step.
The Flyers look to end a 10-game road losing streak to the Devils on Friday night when the Atlantic Division rivals meet for the fifth time this season.
While the Flyers and Devils have developed a fierce rivalry over the years, it has been very one-sided lately with New Jersey going 13-1-1 in the past 15 regular season meetings. Philadelphia is 0-8-2 on the road against the Devils since a 3-1 victory on March 9, 2004.
New Jersey has outscored Philadelphia 14-5 in three straight wins this season after losing the first meeting 4-0 on Oct. 18.
Martin Brodeur has played the biggest role in the Devils’ success against the Flyers, recording every decision during the 13-1-1 stretch while compiling a 2.17 goals-against average. His 39 wins versus Philadelphia are his most against any opponent.
A recent six-game losing streak dropped the Flyers (19-14-4) out of first place in the Atlantic - a spot now occupied by the Devils - but Philadelphia has rebounded with three straight wins, including a 1-0 victory at Florida on Sunday.
“I think our team is finding ways to win right now,” said Philadelphia coach John Stevens, who coached the Flyers for most of last season as they compiled a 22-48-12 mark. “The talk before was that we were finding ways to lose and letting games slip away. We didn’t play our best hockey tonight, but we played a team that was desperate and we’re having different people stepping up and finding ways to win.”
Despite Niittymaki’s impressive performance, he figures to back up Martin Biron on Friday. Biron has stopped 65 of 68 shots in his last two games, although he’s 4-10-0 with two ties and a 3.22 GAA in 17 appearances against New Jersey.
Philadelphia is still without left wing Simon Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer. Gagne hasn’t played since Nov. 7 because of a concussion, but could be back in the lineup as early as next week.
Right wing Scottie Upshall missed Sunday’s game with a sprained right ankle, but has not been ruled out for Friday. Defenseman Randy Jones has missed three of the last four games with a knee injury and isn’t likely to play against New Jersey.
The Devils (22-14-3) continued their strong play Wednesday with a 3-2 victory over Florida. Jamie Langenbrunner and Noah Clarke scored first-period goals, and Martin Brodeur stopped 31 shots as New Jersey won for the fourth time in five games.
The Devils had gone eight consecutive games without a first-period goal before Wednesday.
“Having a lead is what you play hockey for,” Brodeur said. “You always want to be ahead but sometimes you can’t control these things. It was definitely nice to come out and get two goals early in the game.”
Since starting slowly in their new home, the Devils now seem comfortable playing at the Prudential Center. They have won three straight and eight of their last nine games there after losing four of their first seven.
Left wing Patrik Elias, who has missed the last two games with a groin injury, hopes to play either Friday or Saturday at Boston.