The Philadelphia Flyers are very much a part of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, but it's not because of their play against the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
The visiting Flyers look to avoid losing twice in two weeks to the Lightning when the teams conclude their season series Friday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Philadelphia (25-13-9) is currently sixth in the East and within three points of the fourth spot in the conference. The Flyers, though, have lost three of their last five games, including 4-1 at Tampa Bay on Jan. 15.
The Flyers are 1-2-0 versus the Lightning (17-22-10) this season, with their lone victory coming 4-3 in overtime on Dec. 2. Tampa Bay, which had its three-game winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at Carolina on Thursday, scored three times in the second period to highlight the last meeting with Philadelphia.
Though 10 points out of the final playoff spot in the East, the Lightning have won seven of their last 10 and are playing their best hockey of the season under interim coach and former Flyer Rick Tocchet. Tampa Bay has also won three in a row at home.
"We didn't play very well down there last time, so we're expecting a good effort (Friday)," forward Mike Knuble told the Flyers' official Web site. "They've played well at home. We'll have our work cut out for us, like we always do."
Simon Gagne and Claude Giroux scored, while Knuble added an assist for his fourth point in three games in a 3-2 loss at Florida on Tuesday. It was the first career goal for Giroux, who turned 21 earlier this month.
"I think it's every kid's goal to score in the NHL," Giroux said. "Now that I've got that out of the way I can keep playing better."
Antero Niittymaki is expected to start in net for Philadelphia. He is 10-3-4 with a 2.59 goals-against average this season, but 0-4-0 with a 4.28 GAA versus the Lightning, who he hasn't faced since October 2007.
"I think he's played well as of late. We'll get him back in the net and get us back in the win column," Flyers coach John Stevens said of Niittymaki, who has won two in a row overall.
Joffrey Lupul scored the lone goal for the Flyers in the last meeting with Tampa Bay and has three goals with seven assists in nine career games versus the Lightning.
All-Stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis each had a goal earlier this month against Philadelphia, but were both held without a point versus Carolina.
Lecavalier had six goals and four assists in his previous seven games, while St. Louis had five and eight assists in his last 10 for the Lightning.
On Thursday, Mark Recchi had a goal and an assist, while Ryan Malone also scored for Tampa Bay, which allowed the Hurricanes' winner with 1:36 remaining.
"The margin of error is so small now that a loss like this, especially to a team we're trying to catch, is a huge loss," Lightning center Jeff Halpern said. "Every loss right now is a big loss."
Mike Smith made 28 saves against Carolina and could be back in goal looking to improve on his 3-1-1 record with a 2.20 GAA against Philadelphia.