(Voorhees, NJ) – The bad news is that the Flyers lost another game to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night in convincing fashion. The good news, though, is that the Pittsburgh Penguins visit to the Wachovia Center on Thursday will provide the opportunity for the club to quickly move on from the lopsided loss and enter the All-Star break on a good note (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet).
“As bad as that game was, it’s one game,” said Stevens of the effort on Tuesday. “If you reflect back, we’ve done a lot of good things lately. It’s a big game for us heading into the break.”
Philadelphia still has a chance to capture first place in the Atlantic Division with a win Thursday night and a New Jersey loss to Montreal. With the 7-3 loss on home ice to the Devils, the fifth straight to their rivals, regrouping against Pittsburgh was the focus on Wednesday afternoon at the Virtua Center Flyers Skate Zone
“You have to forget about it,” said Scott Hartnell
. “You’re not going to play your best every night. We all realize that in here. Tomorrow is a good time to end on a good note before the All-Star break, to get a win, and get everyone to feel good about themselves again.”
|Hats are cleaned up from the ice after R.J. Umberger's third goal against the Penguins during a game at the Wachovia Center on December 11. (Getty Images) |
“It’s the last game before the All-Star break, it’s a team that’s in our division, it’s a game coming off of a bad game against New Jersey…there’s a lot of things put in place to really look at it as one of the biggest challenges we’ve had so far,” added Martin Biron, who will get the start in net.
The Penguins will be without last season’s MVP, Sidney Crosby. Crosby suffered a high ankle sprain earlier this month and will be out for at least another six weeks. Crosby’s injury, coupled with Philadelphia’s 3-0 record against Pittsburgh this season, should give the Flyers confidence heading into Thursday night.
Still, it is not an automatic win by any stretch of the imagination.
“Even though Sid is out, they are rallying around the fact that they want to prove they aren’t just a one-player team,” said Mike Richards. “They have some extremely talented players, and their goaltender is playing well right now. We’re going to have our hands full.”
The goaltender, Ty Conklin, has been as much of a reason as players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for Pittsburgh being in the thick of the playoff race. The journeyman netminder has a 10-1-2 record (including a nine-game winning streak at one point) with a 1.82 goals against average this season. He has started 13 of the team’s last 15 contests, but will be trying to rebound from a 6-5 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals on Monday.
Conklin and Flyers captain Jason Smith are dubiously linked in history dating back to the time when they both played in Edmonton. In Game One of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, Conklin tried to play a puck behind the net to Smith with time winding down in a 4-4 tie. Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour stole the puck and deposited it into an empty net and the Hurricanes went on to capture the series in seven games. Conklin never again played for the Oilers.
Smith, who describes Conklin as a “really good person,” is not surprised to see him back having success after bouncing around the league a bit after that incident.
|Ty Conklin's pass attempt to Jason Smith spelled doom for Edmonton in Game One of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals. (Getty Images) |
“It was a situation that happens a lot in games, it just happened to be at a moment where the timing wasn’t right,” said Smith. “He did a lot of good things for the Oilers when he was there, and he’s a competitor. He was confident that he was going to regain his form, and he’s shown that he’s an NHL goalie the way he’s played lately.
“Any time you see a person who turns things around from a tough situation, it’s great.”
While Smith and Conklin may remain friendly towards each other away from the rink, there is still some tension surrounding the game after the way the previous matchup ended. Following the Flyers’ 8-2 dismantling of the Penguins on December 11, Penguins coach Michel Therrien accused Flyers boss John Stevens of running up the score. Stevens, on the other hand, was unhappy with the way that he felt Pittsburgh players were taking runs at his skilled players when the game was already decided.
More than a month has passed since that game, though, and the Flyers don’t expect that verbal battle in the press to have any effect on this particular tilt.
“A month is a long time when you don’t play each other,” said Richards. “I could see if it’s the next week, but it’s kind of hard to have a bitter taste for a month. I’m sure they’ve moved on, and I know we haven’t even thought about it.”
“I expect it to be a hard-fought game,” said Umberger. “There’s going to be a lot of battles out there, but this time of the year both teams realize it’s more important to win the game first.”