Flyers-Penguins Preview

The Associated Press

Though a playoff berth would still be a long way off, a home-and-home sweep of the rival Pittsburgh Penguins would surely instill a great deal of confidence in the Philadelphia Flyers.

Second place in the Metropolitan Division would also be a nice benefit.

The Flyers have been very successful in recent trips to Pittsburgh, a trend they'll try to continue Sunday in a second straight matchup against the short-handed Penguins.

While Pittsburgh (44-18-4) is cruising to a second straight division title, Philadelphia (34-25-7) is in the middle of a tightly bunched pack of teams vying for a playoff spot. The Flyers, though, could end the weekend second in the Metropolitan with a win and help from San Jose against the New York Rangers later Sunday.

The opener of this home-and-home series Saturday was a one-sided affair, with Philadelphia posting a 4-0 victory behind Matt Read's two goals and 25 saves from Steve Mason. Scott Hartnell and Vincent Lecavalier also scored for the Flyers, who avoided a third straight loss and improved to 8-2-1 since the start of February.

''We were looking for a game like that a long time ago where we make sure that everybody follows the game plan and everybody plays 60 minutes,'' captain Claude Giroux said. ''It feels pretty good.''

Giroux continued his strong play with a pair of assists, giving him four goals and six assists over his last six games. He has eight goals and 22 points in his last 12 games against the Penguins, including playoffs.

''We want to finish higher and want home-ice advantage,'' Giroux said. ''It's there for us to take but we have to keep playing like this.''

Mason figures to be back in net Sunday looking to continue his road success. He is 3-0-1 with a 2.45 goals-against average in his last four away from home.

Philadelphia is 7-1-1 in its last nine-regular season trips to Pittsburgh, winning 2-1 on Nov. 13 in its lone visit this season. But the Penguins are 17-1-2 on home ice since that loss.

Saturday's defeat snapped Pittsburgh's three-game win streak and dropped it three points behind red-hot Boston for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Already without forward Pascal Dupuis (knee) and defensemen Kris Letang (stroke) and Paul Martin (hand), Pittsburgh was also missing high-scoring wingers Chris Kunitz (lower body) and James Neal (concussion) on Saturday.

Coach Dan Bylsma wouldn't use the injuries as an excuse.

''We have capable guys, guys who have done well for us before,'' he said. ''We have to find ways to win within our roles regardless of who's in there. We weren't able and ready to do that today.''

Neal and Kunitz have combined for 53 goals and 108 points and their absences make it easier for teams to key on superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who were limited to a combined three shots.

''They did a lot of what we expected,'' Bylsma said. ''We weren't able to handle it, and in all aspects of the game we weren't good.''

Kunitz warmed up Saturday before determining he couldn't play after crashing into a goalpost in the third period Tuesday against Washington. Bylsma was noncommittal when asked whether Kunitz would play Sunday.

Pittsburgh has scored three goals or fewer in seven consecutive games, its longest such streak since Oct. 25-Nov. 12, 2011.

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