Voorhees, NJ – It's almost over.
After nine straight games away from the Wachovia Center, the Flyers are ready to face the final two teams on their road trip: Chicago and Detroit. The two opponents are headed in opposite directions lately, as the Blackhawks are 1-8-2 in their last 11 games after breaking a 10-game losing streak in Washington on Tuesday night while Detroit is in first place in the Western Conference with 59 points.
"It's a team we don't have a chance to see a lot," said Gagne of Chicago. "We are at the top of the league and every team wants to play their best game against us. I think it's going to be tougher and tougher every game until the end of the season."
"When you're talking about a team that's in a tailspin, it's like they are backed into a corner and they are dangerous. They have a physical lineup and it's not an easy building to play in," added Mike Knuble. "Detroit, on the flip side, is kind of a team that is cruising along and they seem to do that year after year. They are playing with a ton of confidence, and that's always a good building to walk out of with a win if you can get one."
On Saturday, the Flyers finally return home for the first time since December 22 in one of the marquee matchups in the NHL so far this season. Peter Forsberg faces his old team, the Colorado Avalanche in the first national broadcast of the season on NBC at 2:00 p.m.
Ken Hitchcock wants to make sure that the team does not look too far ahead, however, and finishes strongly with its two Western Conference opponents this week. The Flyers lost their first game of the trip in regulation on Monday in New Jersey and are currently 7-1-1 on the trip.
"What I hope happens is that we get energy but we don't look forward to going home. I think that's the mistake that a lot of teams make," said Hitchcock. "When you're on a long road swing you end up playing the last game or two with one foot on the bus. I thought [Monday] was the first time that we didn't grit it out like we had. If it was another team we maybe could have won yesterday, but it was New Jersey and they were playing very well defensively.
"We had a really good practice [Tuesday] with a lot of energy, and hopefully we can carry that into this week."Niittymaki Staying in Net
Despite the presence of backup goaltender Jamie Storr, Hitchcock has no plans to use the veteran goaltender between the pipes while Robert Esche continues to recover from his groin injury and Antero Niittymaki keeps up his strong play as the starter.
"Two reasons," said Hitchcock. "We want to continue to evaluate [Niittymaki] and Esche is close. Esche is going to practice with us on Friday and we're thinking that next week Esche is going to be ready.
"The evaluation for [Niittymaki], quite frankly, is in case he does have to play playoff games. We're not sure on Esche yet. We have a lot of games in a row, every second night, and we're seeing if he can handle the grind. So far, so good."Injury Report
Hitchcock said Sami Kapanen will play on Wednesday in Chicago, after missing Monday's game in New Jersey with a minor arm injury. Also, Turner Stevenson made the trip and will skate with the team for the next couple of days before being available for selection on Saturday.