Eleven games, 17 points and 23 days later, the Philadelphia Flyers finally return home.
After finishing off the longest road trip in franchise history, Philadelphia returns to the ice to take on the streaking Colorado Avalanche, who will face former teammate Peter Forsberg for the first time.
Forced on the grueling trip because the Wachovia Center was hosting Disney on Ice and other events, the Flyers managed to go 8-2-1 during the stretch to move five points ahead of the second-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.
The Flyers were 6-0-1 in one-goal games on the trip, but appeared to finally tire in Thursday night's finale, allowing five goals in the third period and falling 6-3 to Detroit on Thursday.
"I'm not going to make excuses and all, but maybe it was the timing of the game," said right wing Mike Knuble, who had two assists. "We got in last night extremely late (following a 5-2 win at Chicago) and we've done extremely well in back-to-back games, but they overwhelmed us in the third. They have a lot of firepower."
Detroit, the Western Conference leader with 61 points, outshot Philadelphia 14-7 in the third and 41-20 for the game.
"It's a lesson," said Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team hasn't played at home since Dec. 22. "When you play against a team like this and make errors in your own zone, you're going to get schooled and we did. We made far too many mistakes with the puck on our side."
Simon Gagne scored twice and added an assist for the Flyers. His 31 goals are second only Atlanta's Ilya Kovalchuk for most in the NHL.
Saturday's game will be an emotional one for Forsberg, who developed into one of the NHL's best players with the Avalanche after being dealt by the Flyers to the Colorado franchise in the 1992 Eric Lindros trade. The Hart Trophy winner as league MVP in 2002-03, Forsberg compiled 216 goals and 525 assists in 10 seasons with the Quebec/Colorado franchise, and was one of the cornerstones of the Avalanche's Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1996 and 2001.
After playing in Sweden during the lockout, Forsberg signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract with Philadelphia last summer.
"It's going to be a little special," he said of facing the Avs. "I was there for a long time and I know a lot of the guys. On the other hand, you get on the ice, you just have to make sure you're professional and do your best and try to make my team win."
While the Flyers finally get to play at home again, they'll be facing a Colorado team that has adjusted well to Forsberg's departure. Colorado has won six in a row and leads the Western Conference with 167 goals. The Avs are 5-1-1 in its last seven visits to Philadelphia.
Colorado's winning streak is its longest since it won six straight from Jan. 30-Feb. 11, 2003.
The Avalanche have scored 23 goals and allowed only eight during its current run, going 8-for-36 (22.2 percent) on the power play and 32-for-34 (94.1 percent) on the penalty kill.
In a 2-1 victory over Montreal on Wednesday, David Aebischer had 25 saves and Ian Laperriere
scored the winner at 16:24 of the third. The Avalanche entered the final period trailing 1-0, but got the equalizer from rookie Marek Svatos with 10:30 left.
Svatos' goal, his 26th of the season, kept him right behind Washington's Alexander Ovechkin for the rookie lead.
"From "Abby" up we have confidence," Laperriere said. "We have Svatos, who doesn't stop scoring. It's great to see from a 23-year-old."
Svatos has six goals during a four-game goal streak after not scoring in the previous four games. He has 13 goals in his last 16 contests.
Colorado is 3-0-1 in its last four games against Philadelphia, and 8-2-2 with four ties since 1995-96.
STANDINGS: Avalanche - 53 points, 2nd place (tied), 2 PB, Northwest Division. Flyers - 62 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Avalanche - Svatos, 26 goals; Alex Tanguay, 33 assists and 51 points; Laperriere, 70 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 31 goals; Forsberg, 44 assists and 58 points; Knuble, 52 PIM.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Avalanche - Power play: 19.9 percent (55 for 277), 6th in NHL. Penalty killing: 85.7 percent (221 for 258), 2nd. Flyers - Power play: 18.3 percent (49 for 268), 11th. Penalty killing: 79.7 percent (204 for 256), 26th.
GOALTENDERS: Avalanche - Aebischer (16-9-0, 2 SO, 3.11 GAA); Peter Budaj (6-5-3, 2.80). Flyers - Antero Niittymaki (17-6-4, 2, 2.74); Jamie Storr (no appearances).
2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Avalanche, 1-0.
LAST MEETING: Dec. 27, 2003; Avalanche 3-2, OT. At Denver, Milan Hejduk scored his 17th goal of the season 1:42 into the extra period, and Philippe Sauve finished with 20 saves for Colorado.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Avalanche - 11-11-0 on the road; Flyers - 13-5-3 at home.