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At the Rink: Panthers at Flyers

by Adam Kimelman

PHILADELPHIA -- After seven games out of the lineup, Vincent Lecavalier will play for the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.

Lecavalier has two goals and four assists in 16 games, but it will be his first game since Nov. 29.

"It's nice to be back," he said. "Almost been three weeks. Nice to get back out there and play with the guys."

Lecavalier was at right wing on the fourth line during the morning skate and also had a presence on the second power-play unit.

Coach Craig Berube called it a reward for the hard work he's seen from Lecavalier in practice.

"He's skating well, working hard," Berube said. "Get a little boost here, maybe a little pop in scoring, on the power play. Very good power-play guy. Thought we'd put him back in."

Prior to this stretch, the only time Lecavalier had missed games in his 16-season career when healthy was during a contract dispute with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"It was really tough," Lecavalier said. "Especially that first game (Dec. 2 at the San Jose Sharks). After that it was kind of a mental game; stay positive and work hard. Be ready as much as possible. With the time I got on the ice make the most of it, practices and off-ice training. I feel I'm as ready as possible for tonight."

Lecavalier's return could help a second power-play unit looking to contribute. The Flyers enter play Wednesday fourth in the League in power-play efficiency at 24.3 percent but almost all of that production has come from the top unit. Four of their 25 power-play goals have come from the second unit.

Defenseman Andrew MacDonald has one of those four goals. He said there's talent on the second unit, which usually has included forwards Sean Couturier, Matt Read, R.J. Umberger and either Lecavalier or rookie Scott Laughton.

"A lot of times on the second unit you get out there with under a minute left and you've got to be aware of guys coming out of the box," MacDonald said. "I don't think we need to take chances per se, but get pucks to the net. We have a good net presence there with [Umberger] in front. Crash the net and stuff like that. A lot of times when your power play is not going so well you relate back to shooting the puck and getting it to the net with bodies going to the net and looking to get some chances that way. Obviously I think we have a good skill set on the unit. Everyone can make plays. I think we have to realize that and take advantage."

Berube said he would like to see more from that second group as well.

"A lot of time with [Claude] Giroux's unit they eat so much of it up they [second unit] don't have a lot of time," Berube said. "But when they do I expect them to create momentum for our team by getting opportunities, getting pucks to the net."

The Panthers still were in a good mood after their 20-round shootout victory Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.

"It was one point but it was a big one point," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "Obviously going 20 deep, the guys are having a lot of fun with it. There was a lot of pressure when we had to score every time. The guys came through at the end. To win that the way it happened, it was real good for our club."

Beyond the history-making win was the fact that the extra point pushed the Panthers into the second Eastern Conference wild card spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Boston Bruins' win Wednesday leapfrogged them ahead of the Panthers, but a win Thursday would put them back into that final playoff spot.

While the middle of December is too early to be scrutinizing the standings on a daily basis, the Panthers are paying attention.

"We know where we're at," center Nick Bjugstad said. "Definitely know and we're getting points, inching our way up the standings. Every game is a huge game for us. We want to keep working our way up, getting out of the wild-card spot and be secure. But obviously it's a long season. It's still early."

But after being part of a team that finished 29th in the League standings last season, Bjugstad said it's fun playing games that matter.

"I think it's more fun when you're in it and it's a competitive playoff spot," he said. "Every game is huge. We want to take every game like it was the last game to clinch a playoff spot. We're taking everything seriously, we're mentally prepared. We're learning as the season has gone on. It's a new environment; a positive, winning environment."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Fleischmann

Sean Bergenheim - Dave Bolland - Brad Boyes

Jussi Jokinen - Aleksander Barkov - Jimmy Hayes

Scottie Upshall - Derek MacKenzie - Tomas Kopecky

Willie Mitchell - Dmitry Kulikov

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Scratched: Vincent Trocheck, Brandon Pirri

Injured: Shawn Thornton (lower body)


Michael Raffl - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek

Brayden Schenn - Scott Laughton - Wayne Simmonds

R.J. Umberger - Sean Couturier - Matt Read

Zac Rinaldo - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Vincent Lecavalier

Nicklas Grossmann - Mark Streit

Nick Schultz - Braydon Coburn

Andrew MacDonald - Luke Schenn

Steve Mason

Ray Emery

Scratched: Chris VandeVelde, Michael Del Zotto, Carlo Colaiacovo

Injured: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots), Ryan White (chest)

Status report: Gallant said it was likely the Panthers would use the same lineup as Tuesday, meaning forwards Brandon Pirri and Vincent Trocheck would be healthy scratches. "Those kids have played well, they've worked hard and they're competing hard," Gallant said. "Now we've got a healthy lineup except for Shawn Thornton so guys are battling. It's tough for me to sit out guys that have played well but I like the way our team is playing." ... Del Zotto will sit out for the sixth time in eight games. "You never want to be sitting out," he said. "All I've been told is that we have healthy [defensemen] and it's a coach's decision. All I can do and all I can control is how hard I work every day. That's what I'm doing."

Who's hot: Bjugstad has four goals and three assists in his past seven games, and scored the winning goal in the historic shootout Tuesday. ... Simmonds has goals in three straight games, and six goals in his past eight games.


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