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Flyers wary of Panthers as they start Florida trip

by Adam Kimelman

FLYERS (40-29-9) at PANTHERS (28-43-8)


Last 10: Philadelphia 4-4-2; Florida 2-8-0

Season series: It's the third and final regular-season game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers. The teams split their previous two games, with each team winning at home. The Flyers won 2-1 in Philadelphia on Oct. 8; the Panthers won 3-1 Nov. 25 in Florida.

Big story: The Flyers start a two-game road trip through Florida on Tuesday. They'll clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs if they defeat the Panthers in any fashion. It's their first trip to the Sunshine State since they were swept on a similar two-game trip in November. This trip is a lot more meaningful for Philadelphia, which still is fighting to get into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, this Flyers team also is a lot different than the one that traveled there in November.

"Going down there, we're playing Florida, I watched them [Sunday] before our game, they were on TV," Flyers coach Craig Berube said. "They're a dangerous team right now. They play with a lot of confidence, they move the puck well. They got a lot of young players that are skating and playing well so we've got to expect a real tough game. I think if we do that and if we go in there with the right mindset we'll be OK."

Team scope:

Flyers: Going into Sunday with one win in seven games (1-4-2) allowed the teams trailing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference standings to catch up to them, and at one point during their game Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres, they noticed the Columbus Blue Jackets had beaten the New York Islanders and matched the Flyers with 87 points.

"Sitting on the bench I saw the score, that they won 4-0," defenseman Mark Streit said. "So I'm like, wow, we've really got to win Sunday."

They did that, beating the Sabres 5-2 to stay two points ahead of the Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division. They also rediscovered an offense that had produced five goals in the four previous games.

It adds up to a team with a renewed confidence as it heads to Florida for a two-game road trip that starts Tuesday against the Panthers and concludes Thursday at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Even though we played well against Boston and St. Louis we lost the games in a shootout, so it feels like a loss," coach Craig Berube said. "There was no goals scored against in the St. Louis game, and then we lose the next two. So it was important [to win Sunday] for the confidence level, just to get guys' spirits back up."

Panthers: Defenseman Ed Jovanovski will turn 38 in June, and he's played 40 games the past two seasons due to an arthritic condition in his hip, but Jovanovski said he plans on returning to finish the final season of his contract in 2014-15.

Jovanovski had a hip resurfacing procedure done in April 2013. The operation is one step from a hip replacement, and according to the doctor who performed the surgery, no professional athlete in one of the four major sports had had the procedure done and returned to play. But after sitting out the first half of the season to rehabilitate, Jovanovski returned to the Panthers on Jan. 4. In 34 games he has five points and a minus-4 rating while averaging 16:25 of ice time per season.

"I take every day as a win," Jovanovski said after he scored his lone goal of the season, in Buffalo on Jan. 9. "I'm very fortunate."

More than the stats, teammates and coaches know how important Jovanovski is to the team.

"Having him in the dressing room is a huge piece," teammate Erik Gudbranson told the Miami Herald. "It's noticeable when he's not here. That battle he's shown, the determination, is something we all need to learn from. Hockey isn't forever, and to show that passion is an amazing thing to see."

Who's hot: Flyers forward Brayden Schenn scored two goals Sunday against the Sabres, including his 20th of the season to give Philadelphia six 20-goal scorers. … Panthers forward Brad Boyes has two goals in three games after scoring one in 15 games.

Injury report: Flyers forward Steve Downie (upper body) will return. … Out for the Panthers are forwards Tomas Kopecky (upper body) and Aleksander Barkov (lower body), and defensemen Alex Petrovic (upper body) and Tom Gilbert (lower body).


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