Panthers-Flyers Preview


Injuries continue to plague the Philadelphia Flyers, but at least Ilya Bryzgalov's play no longer seems to be.

With the Flyers possibly further depleted up front, they might need another strong performance from Bryzgalov if they're going to post a fourth straight victory Thursday night against the visiting Florida Panthers.

Philadelphia's current win streak is its longest since December. A big reason it hadn't been winning consistently was uneven play in net, particularly from Bryzgalov.

Failing to live up to the $51 million, nine-year deal he signed in the offseason, Bryzgalov doesn't rank among the league's top 30 goaltenders with a 2.71 goals-against average and his .903 save percentage is the worst of his career. However, the former Vezina Trophy finalist appears to be playing his best just as the postseason approaches.

Bryzgalov, who briefly lost the No. 1 job earlier this season, has started Philadelphia's last nine games and has allowed six goals over the past four while posting a .950 save percentage.

"Bryz has been great, he's playing awesome and we need him to keep playing that way. He makes us all look better," center Danny Briere said after Bryzgalov made a season-high 37 saves in a 3-2 win over Detroit on Tuesday.

That victory was the Flyers' third in as many games in March after a 4-7-1 stretch, but two more key players got hurt.

Jaromir Jagr left with a hip injury, leaving his status for Thursday uncertain. Fellow right wing Jakub Voracek appears unlikely to play after needing stitches in his upper and lower mouth following a big hit from Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall.

"It's frustrating. He's having a terrific year and is a terrific player for us," coach Peter Laviolette said of Voracek. "It's substantial when you're battling through a lot of injuries and you take a hit like that, it's tough."

Laviolette's club already was missing winger James van Riemsdyk (foot), who is sidelined indefinitely, and defenseman Chris Pronger (concussion), who is out for the season. Jagr, van Riemsdyk and Briere, who has gone 20 games without a goal, all previously had extended absences.

Despite those key injuries, the Flyers (37-21-7) are fifth in the Eastern Conference.

The Panthers trail them by seven points but currently own the third spot in the East playoff picture, holding a two-point lead on Winnipeg for the Southeast Division lead.

They're dealing with some significant injuries as well, most notably leading scorer Kris Versteeg (lower body). The former Flyer has missed four straight games and won't return this week.

Florida (31-22-12), which hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000, returns from a three-day break to play road games on consecutive nights against the Pennsylvania teams. The Panthers had won four straight on the road before being humiliated in a 7-0 loss at Winnipeg last Thursday.

They returned home with a loss to Nashville on Saturday but hope to be back on track after defeating Ottawa 4-2 the following night.

"It was good to get a win finally in front of these fans that are itching for the playoffs," said winger Jack Skille, who scored his fourth goal. "We want to make sure that we come back with a lot of push at the end of the season here."

Florida, though, has lost four straight to the Flyers - all at home - and fell 3-2 in both meetings this season, with the most recent defeat coming on Claude Giroux's shootout goal Jan. 24.

Bryzgalov didn't start that game but is 3-0-1 with a 1.68 GAA lifetime against the Panthers.