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Flyers' fight for third in division enters final weekend

by Adam Kimelman

FLYERS (41-30-9) at PENGUINS (51-24-5)


Last 10: Philadelphia 3-5-2; Pittsburgh 5-5-0

Season series: It's the fifth and final regular-season game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers have won three straight in the season series, most recently sweeping a home-and-home set March 15-16. The Flyers capped the sweep with a 4-3 win in Pittsburgh.

Big story: While the Penguins' Stanley Cup Playoff fate has been sealed -- as the Metropolitan Division champion and second seed in the Eastern Conference, they'll face the first wild-card team in the first round -- there remains much for the Flyers to play for.

Philadelphia's loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday opened the door for the Columbus Blue Jackets to pass them for third place in the Metropolitan Division.

"We've still got a lot of work to do," Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds said. "We've got to work on our consistency and overall play over the next [two] games into the playoffs. We want to be going in on a high note, not a low note."

Team scope:

Flyers: The Flyers have been among the best third-period teams in the League. Their 88 goals in the final 20 minutes is second in the League, they've won seven games when trailing after 40 minutes, tied for the second-most in the League, and 11 times they've won after trailing at any point in the third period.

But in six April games they've been outscored 11-3 in the third period. That includes surrendering three in the third Thursday against the Lightning.

"We're not playing smart, not keeping it simple," Simmonds said. "We're just not playing the way we were in the middle of the year in the third. Obviously that's got to change. Third periods are huge come playoff time. … We have to try to turn this around in the next two games in the third period."

Another loss could send the Flyers to a wild-card spot and a potential first-round series with the Penguins.

However, the Flyers aren't looking that far ahead.

"We've got two games to get things sorted out, get things on the right page … going into the playoffs," forward Scott Hartnell said.

Penguins: Now that the Penguins have their full defense corps all on the ice at the same time for the first time since January, the next step is getting some offensive punch from the back end.

The latest additions to the lineup are two of the better offensive-minded defensemen in the NHL in Paul Martin and Kris Letang. Martin returned April 3 after breaking his hand during the 2014 Sochi Olympics and has one goal and two assists in four games; Letang came back Wednesday after suffering a stroke Jan. 29 and had an assist.

While the ability to produce offense is one of their strong suits, another is their ability to move the puck out of the defensive zone. During an 18-game stretch from after the Olympic break to when Martin returned, the Penguins went 8-8-2 and were outshot by 59.

"Getting the puck out of the zone is the biggest thing," defenseman Matt Niskanen told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "We've spent too much time there. Some of that is breaking out with the puck on our stick clean. Some of that is ending plays quickly. Kris is a pretty good defender. He can manhandle guys in the corner, then he grabs the puck and heads the other way. When he's playing well we're tough to beat."

Who's hot: Flyers center Sean Couturier has goals in consecutive games for the first time since Nov. 29-30. … Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen has points in three straight games.

Injury report: Flyers defenseman Nicklas Grossmann (foot) is questionable. … The Penguins are missing forwards Chris Conner (hand/foot), Pascal Dupuis (knee), Marcel Goc (foot), Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale (mid-body). Goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who has missed the entire season recovering from blood clots, was scheduled to play in an American Hockey League rehabilitation game Friday.


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