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Panthers have hands full with surging Flyers

by Brian Hunter
PANTHERS (7-7-0) at FLYERS (10-4-2)


Last 10:
Florida 5-5-0; Philadelphia 8-1-1

Season Series:
First of four meetings on the 2010-11 schedule. Florida won three of the four last season, but its 5-1 loss in Philadelphia on Oct. 24, 2009 was a big one as David Booth suffered a serious concussion and had to be wheeled off on a stretcher after a crushing open-ice hit by Flyers captain Mike Richards. Booth missed nearly three months but returned to have a four-point night and a fight with Richards in the most recent matchup, a 7-4 win by the Panthers on March 3, 2010.

Big Story:
Philadelphia has started off like a team that intends to take another crack at the Stanley Cup, taking charge early in the Atlantic Division. One of the biggest questions for the Flyers last season, goaltending, has suddenly become a strength with the emergence of rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.

Team Scope:

Panthers: Only Boston has played fewer games in the Eastern Conference this season than Florida, so although the Panthers enter Saturday last in the Southeast Division, they have games in hand on all of their rivals. They also have a two-game winning streak going after edging the Wild 2-1 on Friday. Chris Higgins and Mike Santorelli scored 53 seconds apart in the first period and Tomas Vokoun turned in his second-straight strong start with 22 saves.

"It was a big start. We came out moving our feet and got two goals and the game tightened up after that," Santorelli said. "It was a hard-fought battle."

Flyers: While the spotlight may have shifted recently to the man in net -- Bobrovsky stood front and center during a six-game winning streak that finally ended Sunday in Washington with an overtime defeat -- Philadelphia still has an extremely potent offense and Carolina was reminded of that fact Thursday. Jeff Carter registered a natural hat trick and the Flyers steamrolled the Hurricanes by an 8-1 score.

"I think there's a pretty good balance on our team," coach Peter Laviolette said. "We can generate offense on our back end, with all the different lines involved, I think it's easier. It takes the pressure off one line or one person."

Who's Hot: Dennis Wideman picked up an assist in his fifth-straight game for the Panthers on Friday. Vokoun has stopped 54 of 56 shots (.964 save percentage) over the last two games. … Richards and Nikolay Zherdev each have goals in three of the Flyers' last four games. Bobrovsky is 7-0-1 in his last eight starts, allowing two goals or less six times.

Injury Report:
Florida forward Steve Bernier might have a broken cheekbone after taking a stick to the face in the closing seconds of Friday's game. He has been ruled out for Saturday. Defenseman Jason Garrison is day-to-day with a groin injury and forward Byron Bitz is on injured reserve as he recovers from sports hernia surgery. … Philadelphia is minus goaltender Michael Leighton (lower back surgery), defenseman Matt Walker (right hip surgery) and forward Ian Laperriere (post-concussion syndrome).

Stat Pack: Radek Dvorak set the Panthers' franchise record for games played Friday at 574, eclipsing the old mark set by Robert Svehla between 1994 and 2002. … The Flyers' eight goals against the Hurricanes were their most in a game since an 8-2 win over the Penguins in December 2007.

Puck Drop:
Florida was predictably displeased by the incident at the end of the game that saw Bernier injured, though Minnesota defenseman Brent Burns, the offending player, said he thought it was his glove and not his stick that made contact with Bernier. Panthers coach Peter DeBoer offered a dissenting opinion.

"It looks like he got a butt end in the face," DeBoer said. "Whether there was intent there or not, that's for other people to decide. He's pretty hurt in there."

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