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Flyers have chance to build wild card lead

Mason again in goal vs. Arizona as Philadelphia tries to pull ahead of Detroit

by Jerry Brown / NHL.com Correspondent

FLYERS (36-24-13) at COYOTES (33-34-7)

TV: 10 p.m. ET; CSN-PH, FS-A+, NHL.TV

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Steve Mason will be in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on Saturday as they try to build a lead in the race for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers have 85 points, the same as the Detroit Red Wings, but they entered Saturday with the lead because they have played one game fewer than the Red Wings. The Red Wings lost 7-2 at the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday.

Mason will start for the 10th time in the past 11 games. Goalie Michal Neuvirth has been out since March 16 because of a lower-body injury, and rookie Anthony Stolarz, who has yet to play an NHL game, is the backup.

The Flyers are 10-2-2 in their past 14 games, including 2-0-1 during a four-game road trip that ends Saturday. Mason has a 1.62 goals-against average and .955 save percentage in that stretch. He sustained a minor injury to his left knee during a 4-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday, but Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said Mason would play Saturday.

"He looks good; he has a lot of energy," Hakstol told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "I'm not worried about it. He's going well and feeling good."

The Flyers' Sam Gagner will play his first game in Arizona since the Coyotes traded him to the Flyers on June 27, 2015. Gagner had the game-winning goal in a 4-2 win against the Coyotes in Philadelphia on Feb. 27.

Gagner said he has extra motivation to again do well against the Coyotes but said he's more focused on making the playoffs for the first time in his nine-season career.

"It was tough [in Arizona] not having the chance to be in a playoff race [last season]," he said. "We are playing well right now and we have a good chance if we can continue that."

The Coyotes beat the Dallas Stars 3-1 on Thursday to win for the fifth time in their past seven (5-2-0). They are 10 points behind the Minnesota Wild for the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with eight games remaining.

Louis Domingue made 37 saves in the win against Dallas, but Arizona coach Dave Tippett said Saturday that Mike Smith would be in goal against the Flyers. Smith has been strong in his return following three months out because of abdominal surgery. He is 3-1-0 with a .963 save percentage in four games back.

However he's struggled against the Flyers during his career. In his past seven starts, dating back to his time with the Tampa Bay Lightning, he is 0-6-1 with a 4.90 goals-against average against them.

"A key element of this stretch has been real quality goaltending," Tippett said. "Getting [defenseman] Oliver Ekman-Larsson back [from injury] has helped and [Martin] Hanzal has played really well. We have players who can still play way better but we have people who are contributing on a night-in, night-out basis.

"Half the team in there is playing for contracts next year. You have somebody that goes out and doesn't play as well as they can, they are affecting the guys beside them. Hold up your end of that bargain."

Hanzal had two goals against the Stars, including his 100th in the NHL. He has three goals in the past two games to give him 13 in 61 games this season. His NHL high is 16 in 61 games in the 2010-11 season.

Here are the projected lineups:

FLYERS

Brayden Schenn - Claude Giroux - Wayne Simmonds

Michael Raffl - Sean Couturier - Jakub Voracek

Matt Read - Nick Cousins - Sam Gagner

Ryan White - Chris VandeVelde - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Nick Schultz - Mark Streit

Andrew MacDonald - Shayne Gostisbehere - Andrew MacDonald

Brandon Manning - Radko Gudas

Steve Mason

Anthony Stolarz

Injured: Michael Del Zotto (wrist), Jordan Weal (upper body), Michal Neuvirth (lower body)

Scratched: Scott Laughton, Evgeny Medvedev, R.J. Umberger

COYOTES

Alex Tanguay - Antoine Vermette - Anthony Duclair

Jiri Sekac - Martin Hanzal - Max Domi

Tobias Rieder - Brad Richardson - Shane Doan

Jordan Martinook - Boyd Gordon - Sergei Plotnikov

Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Connor Murphy

Klas Dahlbeck - Zbynek Michalek

Kevin Connauton - Michael Stone

Mike Smith

Louis Domingue

Injured: Anders Lindback (Achilles), Joe Vitale (broken orbital)

Scratched: Kyle Chipchura, Nicklas Grossmann, Viktor Tikhonov

Status report: Philadelphia juggled its lines a bit against Colorado. Voracek and Raffl joined Couturier on a line, with Gagner playing with Read and Cousins. Those lines appeared intact Saturday at the morning skate.

Who's hot: Gudas has five goals in his past 10 games after not scoring in his first 57 games this season. … Giroux has goals in three straight games. … Rieder has goals in back-to-back games after scoring once in the previous 20.

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