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Lightning-Flyers Preview

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Lightning-Flyers Preview

GAME: Tampa Bay Lightning (26-20-4) at Philadelphia Flyers (30-12-8).

TIME: Saturday, 2 p.m. EST.

Facing a team that has beaten them six straight times in the regular season may not be the best matchup for a Philadelphia Flyers squad that is banged up and slumping at home.

Philadelphia looks for its first regular-season win over Tampa Bay in almost three years when the teams meet for the third time this season.

The Flyers, who were also knocked out of the playoffs by the Lightning in 2003-04, have struggled to find the same chemistry they had when they went 8-2-1 on a road trip from Dec. 23-Jan. 12.

Philadelphia has played five of six games at home since the trip, but has just one win in those contests at the Wachovia Center.

"It's a tough time right now we're going through," Simon Gagne said after Friday's practice. "We look like a tired team, but it's not an excuse. We need to play through it."

The Flyers will be without star center Peter Forsberg for at least two games. Forsberg - who leads the Flyers with 62 points - suffered a slight tear in his left groin in Philadelphia's 5-3 loss to Montreal on Wednesday night, the same injury that caused him to miss two games last week.

Forsberg's absence, along with injuries to numerous other key players, has kept things in perspective for Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock.

"If our team was loaded and had everybody in it and we were making the mistakes we're making now, you'd have a very upset coaching staff," Hitchcock said. "But there's big picture stuff going on and we've got to keep it realistic."

A 90-minute team meeting on Thursday focused on getting the Flyers back to what made them successful at the start of the season.

"A lot of players have different opinions about the way we've played, so sometimes you need to maybe bring what you think and take the best of it," said Gagne, whose 34 goals are tied for second in the NHL. "That's something we had to do and I think there are a lot of positives from what we talked about and we should see a difference on the ice (Saturday)."

The Lightning haven't lost to the Flyers in the regular season since April 4, 2003, and Tampa Bay has held Philadelphia to two goals or less in the last five meetings.

Led by goalie John Grahame, the Lightning have won four of their past five games, including a 1-0 overtime victory over New Jersey on Thursday. Grahame, in his first year as Tampa Bay's No. 1 goalie, is 4-1 this month with three shutouts.

"You know in a game like this that one mistake could cost you. You don't want to have that mistake on your side," said Grahame, who made 20 saves against the Devils and has allowed only one goal in the four victories. "That's what drives you. No mistakes that will cost you the game. Stay focused."

Ruslan Fedotenko scored for Tampa Bay, which hasn't allowed a power-play goal in its last six games.

STANDINGS: Lightning - 56 points, 2nd place, 18 PB, Southeast Division. Flyers - 68 points, 1st place, Atlantic Division.

TEAM LEADERS: Lightning - Vincent Lecavalier, 20 goals; Vaclav Prospal, 36 assists and 53 points; Pavel Kubina, 74 PIM. Flyers - Gagne, 34 goals; Forsberg, 47 assists and 62 points; Donald Brashear, 59 PIM.

SPECIAL TEAMS (through Jan. 26): Lightning - Power play: 13.7 percent (40 for 292), 29th in NHL. Penalty killing: 83.3 percent (204 for 245), 12th. Flyers - Power play: 18.7 percent (56 for 300), 10th. Penalty killing: 80.1 percent (229 for 286), 23rd.

GOALTENDERS: Lightning - Grahame (19-14-1, 4 SO, 2.69 GAA); Sean Burke (7-5-3, 2.70). Flyers - Antero Niittymaki (18-7-6, 2, 2.82); Robert Esche (12-5-2, 3.13).

SEASON SERIES: Lightning, 2-0.

LAST MEETING: Nov. 22; Lightning, 4-2. At Philadelphia, Brad Richards and Dan Boyle scored within a 1:26 span to break a tie in the second period.

ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lightning - 13-11-2 on the road; Flyers - 14-7-5 at home.


Associated Press

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