The struggling Philadelphia Flyers are desperate to end a second-half slump, and a visit from the Atlanta Thrashers might be coming at the perfect time.
The Flyers will try to continue their dominance of the Thrashers when the teams meet Tuesday at the Wachovia Center.
Philadelphia (35-28-10) missed the playoffs and posted the worst record in franchise history last season, but was within three points of the Eastern Conference lead on Feb. 5. Since then, however, the Flyers have dropped to eighth in the conference, just one point ahead of Buffalo.
Philadelphia lost its fourth straight on Sunday, 7-1 at Pittsburgh. Still, the Flyers' current losing streak is far from their longest of the season - they lost a franchise-record 10 in a row from Feb. 6-23.
"It's in our hands right now," forward Mike Richards said. "It's better to be in this situation than to be chasing from behind. We control our destiny, but we better start winning games and playing a whole lot better."
|The Philadelphia Flyers look to break free from their current four-game losing streak and maintain their grip on the final Eastern Conference playoff spot when they take on the Atlanta Thrashers on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gregory Smith)
Coach John Stevens had all of his players' stalls moved around at their practice facility on Monday to help his team shake its current funk. But a game against the Thrashers (31-35-8) might be more effective - the Flyers have won nine in a row against Atlanta, earning a point in the last 13 meetings.
Philadelphia is 24-3-1 with three ties all-time against Atlanta, including 12-1-1 with two ties at home. The Thrashers' only regulation win in Philadelphia was a 7-4 victory on Jan. 13, 2003.
"We've been on great stretches, and we've been on losing stretches," Richards told the Flyers' official team Web site. "Right now, we know it's time to come together as a team and put together a good stretch. We know that we can do it, we just have to find it."
If the Flyers do end up missing the playoffs they'll have no one but themselves to blame. After facing the Thrashers, they close the regular season with eight division games.
However, Philadelphia will likely be without two key players during the stretch run. Center R.J. Umberger, who has 12 goals and 49 points, sprained his left knee against the Penguins and is out at least two weeks, while defenseman Derian Hatcher has a broken right leg and won't play again the rest of the regular season.
Antero Niittymaki will get the start against Atlanta after taking over for Martin Biron on Sunday. Biron gave up three goals on eight shots, while Niittymaki stopped 24 of 28 shots.
The Thrashers own the second-worst record in the East and have dropped four of five, including Sunday's 3-1 loss in Florida. Ilya Kovalchuk scored for Atlanta and ranks second in the league with 49 goals.
Atlanta outshot Florida 30-25, the first time in 24 games the Thrashers held an edge in shots.
"I thought we played pretty hard," forward Eric Boulton said. "They re fighting for their playoff lives and we gave them a good run for their money. We outshot them tonight and that's the first time we've done that in a while. We're going right to the end.