An intense matchup against a potential playoff opponent didn't result in a victory for the Pittsburgh Penguins in their last game. Perhaps the return of their starting goaltender will help produce a different outcome.
Marc-Andre Fleury will likely be back in net for the Penguins on Sunday afternoon when they visit the Atlantic Division rival Philadelphia Flyers, who are seeking a seventh consecutive win at Wachovia Center.
Pittsburgh (31-20-1) wasted a pair of one-goal leads Thursday at home against Eastern Conference-leading Washington. The Penguins ultimately lost 6-3 in a contest Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik said had "the feeling of a playoff game."
The reigning Stanley Cup champions are likely to experience similar intensity at Philadelphia (26-21-3), where they've won four in a row with the last three decided by one goal.
"I think the Philly rivalry is different (from Washington) in that no matter where the teams are at, no matter what their records are, no matter what year it is, there is going to be a confrontation," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "There's going to be a storyline, and there's past history."
Fleury's return could help Pittsburgh continue its success at Wachovia Center. He's missed three games with a broken left ring finger, and will wear a new catching glove to provide extra padding.
"He obviously hasn't had a ton of practice time lately and he's adjusting," Bylsma said. "But he took a lot of shots (in practice Friday and a full practice (Saturday), so I would say that he's ready to start."
Fleury will seek a better showing against the Flyers than he had at home Jan. 7, when he got pulled early in the second period after allowing four goals on 15 shots in the Penguins' eventual 7-4 loss. He'd won the previous three meetings in the series, including two at Philadelphia.
Fleury may have a difficult time against the Flyers, who have won three in a row and 10 of 14 after enduring a 3-13-1 stretch, during which coach John Stevens was fired and replaced by Peter Laviolette.
The Flyers have also won six straight at home. It's their longest run there since winning eight in a row Dec. 8, 2008-Jan. 10, 2009, which included their last home victory over Pittsburgh - a 6-3 win Dec. 13, 2008.
Philadelphia extended its home streak Saturday, beating NHL-worst Carolina 4-2 as Jeff Carter's two goals and one assist helped the Flyers overcome a costly error by Ray Emery. The goaltender misplayed the puck behind his net, after which the Hurricanes' Sergei Samsonov stole it and set up Rod Brind'Amour in front for an uncontested tally.
"Everybody makes mistakes out there," Laviolette said. "We made a bunch of them (Saturday). He competed really well tonight, and made the big saves when the game was on the line. He did what he needed to do for us to be successful."
Despite his error Saturday, Emery has been impressive overall in helping the Flyers to a three-game winning streak, posting a 1.69 GAA and a shutout while starting each contest. However, he lost his last start against Pittsburgh, making 20 saves in a 5-4 home defeat Oct. 8.
Now, he'll have to deal with a hot Sidney Crosby, who has nine goals and six assists over his last eight games. The center's 24 goals in 30 meetings with the Flyers are his most against any club.
He found the net twice in the loss to Philadelphia earlier this month.