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Flyers, Canadiens look to enter break with a win

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- Expect a playoff-like intensity at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday when the Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers meet for the fourth and final time this season (7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, RDS).
Of course, there's always a chance the teams will renew acquaintances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs; the Flyers eliminated the Canadiens in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals last spring.
The Canadiens, 7-1-3 in their last 11 games, will be looking to even the season series with the Flyers before both teams shut down for the All-Star break this weekend. The Flyers enter the game tops in the League with 32 wins and 69 points.
A victory by the Flyers not only would make them the first expansion-era team to win 1,000 home games, but put the club in the lead for the Presidents' Trophy through 50 games. The last time that happened was Jan. 28, 1987 -- the season the Flyers dropped a dramatic seven-game series to the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Final.
"They are in first place in our conference for a reason," Canadiens defenseman James Wisniewski said. "They're one of the best teams in the League and it'll be like a playoff game. If you turn the puck over, they have a good transition game and they work really hard. It's a matter of outworking them to get two points."
Montreal will get a needed lift at forward as center Jeff Halpern will return after missing the previous two games with an upper-body injury. Halpern, who has 7 goals, 19 points and a plus-5 rating, is also the Canadiens' best faceoff man (58.3 percent) and also one of the team's best penalty-killers. To make room for Halpern, Montreal sent rookie Andreas Engqvist back to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League. The club kept 6-foot, 193-pound Ryan White, whose physical style certainly should come in handy against the Flyers.
"I mean, record-wise, you could put the Flyers in a group of contending teams in the East," Halpern said. "This is one team we've had really good games against all year. It's probably the best measuring stick on how we want to compete in the East."
Montreal coach Jacques Martin agrees.
"It's a huge game because it gives us a chance to catch up on Boston (in the Northeast Division), and with a win it'll enable us to tie the series with the Flyers this year," Martin said. "You look at the standings -- every point is crucial."
The Canadiens currently are two points behind the Northeast-leading Bruins, who host the Panthers on Wednesday.
The Flyers, meanwhile, are just looking to maintain the same level of consistency they've exhibited over the first part of the season. The last time the club was about to go on a long break (for Christmas), it suffered a 5-0 defeat to visiting Florida.
"It's no secret you have to go on a game-by-game basis in this League," Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "Everybody has played hard and good. I couldn't say one person hasn't played to their capacity. If one line hasn't done anything one game, the other two have picked it up. That's been the key. We've fought through some injuries, so hopefully we can keep that going as well."
The Flyers will be without forward James van Riemsdyk, who will miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury.
Van Riemsdyk, who skated at Monday's practice but missed Tuesday's morning skate, is reportedly suffering from a groin injury. Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren said van Riemsdyk is making progress and could return Feb. 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Van Riemsdyk's absence opens the door for Daniel Carcillo, who will play his second straight game. He'll likely join center Blair Betts and Jody Shelley in a fourth-line role. The other lines likely will be Claude Giroux centering Nikolay Zherdev and Jeff Carter; Mike Richards between Darroll Powe and Andreas Nodl; and Danny Briere centering Scott Hartnell and Ville Leino.
Flyers rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who will start against the Canadiens and has seemingly worked himself back into the Calder Trophy discussion during his current five-game win streak, is tied for 11th in the NHL in wins (20) and is 12th in goals-against average (2.44). The Canadiens will have Carey Price (24-15-5) in net. Price is tied for the League lead in wins and is ninth with a 2.33 GAA.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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