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Playoff implications abound as Flyers host Canadiens

by Brian Hunter
CANADIENS (37-32-8) at FLYERS (38-33-6)

Last 10: Montreal 5-3-2; Philadelphia 2-6-2

Season series:
Fourth and final meeting of the regular season. After the Canadiens won the initial matchup in December, the Flyers swept a home-and-home right before the Olympic break. Danny Briere leads all scorers with four goals, including a hat trick in a 6-2 win for Philadelphia in the most recent game.

Big story: The Flyers coasted into the Olympics, having taken a pair of games from both the Devils and Canadiens in a six-day span, but March was not a kind month. They lost eight of their last 11 as well as goalie Michael Leighton, who had engineered the aforementioned sweeps, and leading scorer Jeff Carter to injuries. April didn't start any better, as their 15-game winning streak against the Islanders came to an end Thursday.

Philadelphia and Montreal begin play Friday tied with Boston at 82 points for the final three Eastern Conference playoff spots. The Flyers are currently sixth and the Canadiens seventh by virtue of total wins. All three teams are two points ahead of the Thrashers and four up on the Rangers. Each has five regular-season games remaining.

Team Scope:

After playing only two games over the past seven days and losing both, it's safe to say Montreal is eager to get back on the ice. Marc-Andre Bergeron's power-play goal got the Canadiens off to a good start against the visiting Hurricanes on Wednesday, but they lost 2-1 after Brandon Sutter and Eric Staal struck early in the second and third periods, respectively. Cam Ward stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced.

"We had so many scoring chances but we didn't score," center Tomas Plekanec said. "It should have been 2-0 or 3-0, and the game would have been completely different. After that we started pushing it, and it doesn't happen when you're pushing and pressing things."

Flyers: Beating the Islanders had been as sure a thing as death and taxes as far as Philadelphia was concerned -- until the Flyers visited Long Island on Thursday. Hoping to build off a 5-1 win over the Devils on Sunday, they instead got buried under an avalanche of first-period goals by the hosts. Brian Boucher was pulled from the 6-4 loss early in the third, and in mopping up Jeremy Duchesne became the fifth goalie to see action for the team this season.

"We were sluggish in the first period," Briere said. "We didn't play our best. At this time of year, we have to be ready for every game."

Who's hot: Andrei Kostitsyn has three goals and an assist in the last four games for the Canadiens. … Arron Asham has two goals and an assist during a three-game points streak for the Flyers.

Injury report:
Montreal forward Sergei Kostitsyn is day-to-day with a lower-body injury. Forward Glen Metropolit has a separated shoulder that could end his season, unless the team makes a deep playoff run. Defenseman Paul Mara is out for the season following shoulder surgery.

Philadelphia forward Daniel Carcillo will serve the back end of his two-game suspension for a high-sticking incident against New Jersey. Leighton remains out with a high ankle sprain, joining fellow injured goalies Ray Emery (hip) and Johan Backlund (groin). Carter is recovering from foot surgery and likely out for the rest of the regular season.

Stat pack:
Mike Richards, with 59 points, is one off tying Carter for the Flyers' scoring lead. … Metropolit's loss is felt most when the Canadiens have the man advantage -- the veteran forward, known mostly for his defense, led the team with 10 power-play goals.

Puck drop:
There's not much downplaying what's on the line Friday night at the Wachovia Center. The team that loses -- especially if it's in regulation -- will find its hold on a postseason berth that much more precarious.

"I would say it will be the biggest game of the year," Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger said.

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