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Flyers host Hurricanes in Saturday matinee

by John McGourty
HURRICANES (15-27-7) at FLYERS (25-21-3)

Last 10 -- Carolina 5-5-0; Philadelphia 6-3-1

Season series -- This is the last of four meetings this season and the Flyers won the first three, although Carolina forced them to a shootout in Raleigh on Dec. 26. The Flyers opened their season with a 2-0 victory in Raleigh on Oct. 2 when goalie Ray Emery notched his third-straight shutout against the Hurricanes. They ended a two-game losing streak when they beat the Hurricanes, 6-1, on Halloween in Philadelphia. Michael Leighton took the loss for Carolina in his first start of the season. Leighton was later claimed off waivers by the Flyers and was the winning goalie on Dec. 26 when they won 4-3. He stopped Tuomo Ruutu and Jussi Jokinen in the shootout and Mike Richards and Danny Briere beat Cam Ward.

Big Story --
In the highly liquid Eastern Conference battle for Stanley Cup Playoff berths, 13 of the 15 teams have a reasonable chance of qualifying for eight spots. The No. 13 Tampa Bay Lighting are five points behind the No. 6 New York Rangers. It's highly likely one team will gather the force of a raging river, incessantly surging forward like the Hurricanes did last year, while the rest will be tidal pools, washing in and washing out. Are the Flyers, who are 12-10-1 since Peter Laviolette took over on Dec. 5, going to be the unstoppable force or will they continue to ebb and flow?

Team Scope:

Hurricanes --
The Hurricanes went 5-16-5 through Nov. 30. Since then, they are 10-11-2, better but not sufficiently so as to escape the Eastern Conference basement. They asked several veterans this week to waive their no-trade clauses. Eric Staal replaced Rod Brind'Amour as captain. Staal scored a hat trick against Atlanta Thursday to help end a three-game losing streak. Ward will make his 18th-straight start. If he wins, he breaks Arturs Irbe's team record of 130 wins in net.

Flyers --
Flames GM Darryl Sutter, whose slumping team hosts the Flyers Feb. 1, was in Philadelphia to watch them play the Rangers Thursday. When asked if he was talking to Sutter about a possible trade, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren joked he would if the writers would give him time to do that. The Flyers have three goaltenders, but Sutter didn't travel 2,355 miles to get a backup goalie. The Flyers would be better with Dion Phaneuf or Robyn Regehr on defense but what would they have to give? The Flyers have a pair of bright, young defensemen to trade in Danny Syvret and Oskars Bartulis but is that enough? Calgary is 26th in scoring so its needs are apparent.

Who's hot --
Flyers captain Richards has 14 points in his past 14 games. Jeff Carter has seven goals and 15 points in the past 13 games. Briere has 13 points in 13 games. Chris Pronger has 10 points in eight games. Arron Asham has eight points in nine games. Rookie James van Riemsdyk has 10 points in nine games. … Staal has six points in three games. Carolina's Matt Cullen has 12 points in 12 games. Ray Whitney has five goals and 11 points in 10 games. Joni Pitkanen has seven points in five games.

Injury report --
Carolina right wing Erik Cole has missed 19 games with an upper-body injury and is out indefinitely. Ruutu has missed six games with an upper-body injury and is due back soon. Scott Walker had shoulder surgery earlier this month and is out indefinitely. Joe Corvo has missed 22 games with a right leg injury. … Syvret has a separated shoulder and is out indefinitely for Philadelphia. Defenseman Ryan Parent has a back problem and is out indefinitely.

Stat pack --
Van Riemsdyk's hot streak has pushed him back into the forefront of Calder Memorial Trophy candidates. He leads all NHL rookies with six game-winning goals; is tied for second with 18 assists; third with 30 points and 111 shots; tied for fourth with three power-play goals; and 15th with 16 takeaways.

Puck Drop --
Aging is a relentless foe. Brind'Amour, 39, is one of the hardest working and best-conditioned athletes in the game, but he was minus-23 last season, second-worst in the NHL, and he is minus-24 this season, worst in the NHL. He had 16 goals and 51 points last year but has only four goals and 11 points this season. He is fondly remembered for his hard work in Philadelphia in the 1990s and this might be Flyers' fans last chance to pay tribute to a great hockey player.

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