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The Philadelphia Flyers were tied for the Atlantic Division lead at the All-Star break last season, but finished the regular season in fourth place.

This season, they'll hope to head up the standings in the second half.

The third-place Flyers - just two points out of first - will look to improve their position when they open a three-game road trip Tuesday night against the Florida Panthers, who will resume play on the fringe of playoff contention.

Philadelphia (25-12-9) has 59 points, the same amount it had last year when it was tied for the Atlantic lead with New Jersey at the break. But after going 27-16-5 in the first half in 2007-08, the Flyers were a mediocre 15-13-6, winding up in fourth place in the division and sixth in the Eastern Conference.

They lost 10 straight in February, a skid that left them fighting to even make the playoffs in the final week of the season.

"We came back and faltered out of the All-Star break last year and made our path to the playoffs a little bit difficult," right wing Mike Knuble told the team's official Web site. "These are the times, as players, you know the games are going to be close. ... You have to approach each game you are playing like it's the biggest game of the year."

Philadelphia is just a point behind the New York Rangers and two in back of division-leading New Jersey despite its leading goal scorer from last season - Danny Briere - being limited to just nine games because of a groin injury.

Briere's comeback hit a bump last week when he chose to have surgery, meaning he'll miss at least another month. Yet Briere's absence hasn't crippled the Flyers whatsoever. Six Philadelphia players have at least 15 goals - no other team has more than five 15-goal scorers - including Jeff Carter, second in the NHL with 30.

Carter had two assists in the Flyers' last game before the break, a 5-3 win over Atlanta on Wednesday. One of those came on the first goal of defenseman Randy Jones' season.

"I think coming into this break, having four or five days off, it was big to come away with these two points," said Jones."It's a team that is below us in the standings and those games are always important."

Carter did score a goal in the Flyers' last road game before the break, a 3-2 shootout win in Florida on Jan. 16.

The Panthers (21-7-8) are in ninth place in the East, just a point behind Carolina for the eighth and final playoff spot. They're 5-1-3 so far in January, but played their worst game of the new year in their last game of the first half.

Karlis Skrastins scored the lone goal of the first period Wednesday at home against Dallas, but Florida didn't score again in a 4-1 loss to the Stars.

"We've picked up points in eight straight games," coach Peter DeBoer said. "It's a disappointing loss but definitely not devastating. We're still right in the thick of things and we'll look at it as the glass half full with where we're at in the season and where we have a chance to get to."

If the Panthers are to make their first playoff appearance in nine years, a lot will depend on their ability to consistently produce offense. They've scored four goals per game in January, but only David Booth (19) has more than 13 goals this season, leaving them with few individual threats.

Florida is 6-2-1 in its last nine games against Philadelphia.

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