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A visit to the Midwest derailed the Philadelphia Flyers, and now they return home to face a team which has been dominant against the Eastern Conference.
The Minnesota Wild hope to continue that trend Thursday as newly named All-Star Niklas Backstrom goes for a third straight shutout and tries to spoil the Flyers' first home game in more than two weeks.
Minnesota (20-16-3) has started its four-game road trip with Backstrom blanking Colorado on Sunday and Boston on Tuesday. The 30-year-old netminder, selected to his first All-Star game on Wednesday, has never had three consecutive shutouts and the only other time he had two in a row came in a home-and-home series with Edmonton from April 3-5, 2007.
His 1-0 victory over Boston, the East leader and highest-scoring team in the conference, was the Wild's sixth straight win against Eastern teams and improved their record versus the opposite conference to 10-1-1.
"I think our whole team rose to the challenge," said Backstrom, who made 28 saves en route to his fifth shutout of the season.
The Flyers (21-10-9) hadn't been shut out all season until a 3-0 loss at Columbus on Dec. 27, one night after they started a six-game road swing with a 5-1 defeat in Chicago. Those consecutive losses came after a 7-1-1 stretch.
The final three games of the trip all ended in shootouts, and they lost the last two - at Los Angeles and Washington. They now look to avoid dropping three straight games for the first time since Nov. 2-8.
"We talked to the team about it and we all agreed that they were feeling sluggish," Flyers coach John Stevens said after Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the Capitals. "We've had some guys injured and some of our veteran guys have stepped up and played great."
Among the injured Flyers are Daniel Briere (groin), limited to nine games all season, and winger Joffrey Lupul, who pulled an abdominal muscle Friday and won't return until next week at the earliest. Left wing Simon Gagne returned Tuesday after missing two games with a shoulder strain, but failed to record a point for the fourth straight game.
Gagne, though, has three goals and three assists in his last three home games and the Flyers have won a season-high six straight at the Wachovia Center, scoring 34 goals. They are 10-0-2 there since a Nov. 8 loss to Tampa Bay as they head into their first home game since Dec. 23.
They're 19-for-42 (45.2 percent) on the power play in their last nine home games.
Minnesota's power play has come to life, scoring at least one goal in four consecutive games (3-0-1) after a 1-for-19 slump, but it's Backstrom and the defense which have keyed the Wild's surge.
"We play a defensive system, but we play more defensive when we score one goal," said Marek Zidlicky, who scored Minnesota's only goal Tuesday. "We try to be more tight and safe."
Backstrom has started all of the Wild's games against the East except their regulation loss to Montreal on Oct. 30, and is 13-0-3 versus Eastern teams since a 4-1 defeat at Washington on Feb. 26.
However, he lost his lone career start versus the Flyers, 3-1 on Dec. 5, 2007, in the teams' most recent matchup as the Wild lost their third straight in the series. Minnesota's only two victories in eight all-time meetings with Philadelphia were both shutouts in February 2003.