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In twist, Flyers, Devils battling just to stay in race

by Adam Kimelman /

PHILADELPHIA -- When the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils take the ice, there's usually a lot at stake.

Most of the time, their regular-season games have had major impact on division and conference races. Since 1994-95, they've missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs a combined three times -- the Flyers in 2006-07, the Devils in 1995-96 and 2010-11. They've combined to win 15 of the past 17 Atlantic Division titles, and nine times they've finished 1-2 in the division.

Instead of fighting for first place in the Atlantic Division as this season nears its close, Philadelphia and New Jersey are battling just to avoid elimination from playoff contention. (Photo: Len Redkoles/NHLI)

This season, though, neither will win the division. And when they face off Thursday here at Wells Fargo Center (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN), their final meeting of the 2012-13 season, there's a good chance both could miss the playoffs entirely.

"Usually these are really jockeying games, where they end up in the playoff group," Flyers forward Mike Knuble told "Now we're jockeying to see if we can climb up into the group that's really serious about grabbing a playoff spot. It's kind of strange."

The Flyers enter winners of two in a row, but they're 11th in the conference, five points behind the eighth-place New York Rangers. They're one point ahead of the Devils, who have dropped from seventh in the conference to 12th during their 10-game winless skid (0-6-4).

Some of the same elements have plagued both teams: injuries and a lack of offense.

Injuries to five regular defensemen have the Flyers dressing three defensemen who have played the bulk of their season in the minor leagues, and a fourth, Kurtis Foster, who has been a healthy scratch in 23 of 43 games.

The Devils played without goalie Martin Brodeur for nearly a month while he dealt with a pulled muscle in his back, and their current skid coincides with the injured right shoulder sustained by forward Ilya Kovalchuk. He was hurt when he fell into the boards in the third period of a game March 23 against the Florida Panthers. He hasn't played since, and the Devils haven't won since.

Ilya Kovalchuk
Right Wing - NJD
GOALS: 10 | ASST: 17 | PTS: 27
SOG: 113 | +/-: -2
"It is a strange year," Flyers forward Simon Gagne told "You almost expect stuff like that to happen this year with 48 games. Both teams got hit with injuries. It's tough to recover from those now. Sometimes when you have 82 games you get time to get those guys back and get maybe a last push with your full lineup. This time you don't have the luxury to do that. … All that together for both teams, you end up where we're at right now and fighting to try to get in."

Offensively, the teams could use a spark. The Flyers were second in the League at 3.17 goals per game last season, but that has dropped to 2.74 this season. And in a four-game losing streak that preceded their two recent wins, they scored three goals.

New Jersey has been shut out in two straight games and has 16 goals during its 10-game slide, despite outshooting the opposition eight times, including seven in a row. They're 29th in the League in scoring at 2.24 goals per game, and their 94 non-shootout goals are the fewest in the League.

Despite their struggles, it's still an odd sight to see both so far down the standings.

"It is a little bit strange," Devils forward Dainius Zubrus told "Instead of battling for first spot in our division, we're the bottom two right now."

Regardless of the standings, though, players on both sides admit to ratcheting up the intensity when they see the opposition jersey hit the ice.

"I don't think the standings really matter for as hard as the game will be played," Zubrus said.

Gagne said, "Doesn't matter if we're in or out, doesn't matter where both teams are at. It's always special the games against them. … It's always fun games to play in. It's one of the best rivalries for us. You got the Rangers, but I think this one is a special one too."


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