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Floundering Flyers are hurting, losing on seven-game skid @NHLdotcom

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -Not even a month ago, the Flyers talked about earning a No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, home-ice advantage in the playoffs and how great it would be for Peter Forsberg to return and add to all the fun.

Instead, after a seven-game losing streak, panic is now the p-word of choice around the team. Desperate is getting some play, too.

And the hopeful comeback of Forsberg, their former captain? Well, that's over, as well.

The Flyers - or any other NHL team - won't be adding the two-time Stanley Cup winner and former MVP to their roster this season. Forsberg, who has not played since ending last season with Nashville, decided Monday he was not healthy enough to attempt a comeback.

His agent, Don Baizley, told teams Forsberg did not have enough confidence in the strength of his surgically repaired right foot to play this season.

"He's been hopeful that he would get the level of confidence that he needed, but he can't," Baizley said by phone. "I don't know how close or how far away he feels. He was hopeful up until this weekend that he would be able to do it."

Surely, Forsberg would have helped the sputtering Flyers.

General manager Paul Holmgren had wanted to sign Forsberg ever since the former Flyers center decided to train for a possible return to the NHL. Forsberg, who spent 1 1/2 seasons with the Flyers, has been rehabilitating in Sweden and practicing with his hometown club, Modo.

"We certainly weren't counting on it because Peter was very clear he was going to test his foot and see if he could play or not," said Peter Luukko, president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor, which owns the Flyers and Sixers. "If he was going to play, it would have been great to see him in a Flyers uniform."

Baizley said Forsberg had not made a decision about attempting a comeback next season.

The Flyers went 0-13-3 without Forsberg in the lineup last season before he was dealt at the trade deadline. This month's problems go far deeper than the absence of one star.

Injuries, mental lapses, and shaky defense have all plagued the Flyers during a season-long losing skid that dropped them from the top of the Atlantic Division to seventh place in the East, only one point ahead of Boston and Buffalo (64).

"It's seven games now. I would call that a little panic already," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said.

Center R.J. Umberger said "desperation is the word right now" after the Flyers lost 5-3 to Montreal on Sunday, their second loss in two nights to the Canadiens. The loss prompted coach John Stevens to hold a closed door meeting to try and restore some confidence before the season really does slip away and the Flyers miss the playoffs for the second straight season.

"You love the effort and the intensity and the resilience, but we're making mistakes that are costing us hockey games," Stevens said.

No play exemplified Philadelphia's breakdown quite like the one that led a Montreal goal in the final seconds of the first period. Montreal's Josh Gorges goaded Flyers defenseman Jim Vandermeer into an apparent fight near the Canadiens' net. Scottie Upshall and Mike Knuble stood nearby waiting for punches to be thrown, leaving Francis Bouillon all alone on a 3-on-1 break to score his first goal in a year.

Gorges laughed at Vandermeer as he skated away.

"That's a play where we're not thinking," Stevens said.

Perhaps if the Flyers were at full strength, some of this losing would be avoided. The Flyers dressed only seven defenseman against the Canadiens and injuries keep piling up.

Simon Gagne has played in only 25 games and might miss the rest of the season with a concussion. Joffrey Lupul, who has 18 goals, could miss up to three weeks with a high ankle sprain. Defenseman Derian Hatcher (knee) might be out for three weeks, and forwards Stevie Downie and Denis Tolpeko are out with concussions.

"You can't hide behind the injuries," Timonen said. "Everyone has injuries."

The ones who are playing have done nothing to show that a turnaround is imminent heading into Tuesday's game at Ottawa. After a strong start, center Daniel Briere is a staggering minus-21 in plus/minus and has started to hear some boos from the Philly diehards. He has only one goal in the last 12 games, no points in his last three and Mike Richards has one goal and five points in the last seven games.

The Flyers called up forward Claude Giroux, the 22nd overall pick in the 2006 entry draft, and he will play against Ottawa. He has 33 goals and 88 points this season for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

The Flyers trailed the Senators by only three points in the Eastern Conference standings on Feb. 5. Philadelphia is still stuck on 65 while the Senators, New Jersey and Montreal all lead the East with 73 points.

With the Feb. 26 trade deadline looming and Forsberg out of the picture, the Flyers need to turn to other alternatives to snap out of their funk.

"We're very happy with our team," Luukko said. "Peter would have been an added bonus, but we like where we're going in the future. We're playing for the long haul."

The 34-year-old Forsberg was an unrestricted free agent and the Flyers, Minnesota, Chicago and Colorado were among the teams considered in the hunt to sign him.

"I think there's more disappointment that he's not playing in the league. He's such a great player," Luukko said.

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