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Wild pay rare visit to Philadelphia

by John McGourty

WILD (35-32-6) at FLYERS (37-31-5)

Last 10
-- Minnesota 4-5-1; Philadelphia 4-5-1

Season series -- This is the second and final meeting of the interconference rivals. The Wild won 2-1 in St. Paul on Feb. 6 when Cal Clutterbuck and Owen Nolan scored and Anton Khudobin made 38 saves in his first NHL start. Minnesota is 3-6-1 overall against Philadelphia since entering the NHL in 2000 and has just one win in six trips to the Wachovia Center.

Big story -- The Flyers are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, four points ahead of ninth-place Atlanta. They have lost five of their last six, including a 2-0 loss at Ottawa on Tuesday, picking up just three of a possible 12 points. The Flyers have benefited all season from the NHL's No. 3 power-play, but they are 0-for-13 in their past four games. The Wild got off to a bad start and have been behind the eight-ball all season. They are 13th in the Western Conference, nine points out of a playoff spot, with time running out. The Flyers have lost five of their last six, not surprising since they've lost their top two goalies and leading scorer in recent weeks.

Team Scope:

Wild -- Niklas Backstrom gave up three goals on 16 shots Tuesday against the Sharks, his first game back after missing seven with a groin injury. After the 4-1 loss to the Sharks, Coach Todd Richards described his team as despondent. James Sheppard has been a big disappointment. The top player from Halifax the year after Sidney Crosby, Sheppard had 96 points for CapeBreton in his final junior season and was the No. 9 pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He has 2 goals and 3 assists and is minus-13 in 56 games this season -- and has been benched for 17 games.

Flyers -- The Flyers envisioned Claude Giroux as their future No. 1 center when they drafted him with the No. 22 pick in the 2006 Entry Draft. Giroux, pointless in his last six games, will take over that position Thursday in the absence of leading scorer Jeff Carter, centering for Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. Coach Peter Laviolette has been shaking up his lower lines recently but Darroll Powe is likely to center James van Riemsdyk and Arron Asham; Mike Richards will center Danny Carcillo and Simon Gagne and Blair Betts will likely center Ville Leino and Ian Laperriere. Adirondack Phantoms (AHL) goalie Johan Backlund, unavailable last week because of a groin injury, was called up and is likely to back up Brian Boucher.

Who's hot -- Flyers defenseman Matt Carle has six assists in the past 10 games. ... Wild leading scorer Guillaume Latendresse has six goals in the past 10 games and 25 in 48 games since coming over in a trade from Montreal. Chuck Kobasew has four goals in five games. Mikko Koivu has seven points in six games. Defenseman Brent Burns has assists in both games since returning from a hip injury.

Injury report -- Wild forward Derek Boogaard has missed five games with a facial injury. He could return after being scratched against the Sharks. Defenseman Shane Hnidy has missed eight games with a leg injury and is day-to-day. Defenseman Clayton Stoner underwent season-ending hernia surgery in January. Defenseman Justin Falk suffered a head injury against Columbus last week and has missed two games. ... Flyers goalie Ray Emery is out for the season after hip surgery. Goalie Michael Leighton is out 8-to-10 weeks with an ankle injury. Carter is out until mid-April with a broken left foot.

Stat pack -- The Flyers don't rally well. They are 20-4-1 when they lead after the first period and 27-2-1 when they lead after two periods. The Flyers are 6-14-1 when they trail after the first and 2-22-1 trailing after the second period. They are 30-8-5 when they score first and 7-23-0 when the opponent scores first. ... Wild right wing Clutterbuck, the reigning hits champion, again leads the league with 275, four ahead of New York Rangers right wing Ryan Callahan.

Puck drop -- A team is going badly when the hometown writers do opposing-team or opposing-player profiles in the wake of the latest loss. That's what Flyers and Wild players woke up to Wednesday, stories about how good the opponent looked against them. "Give (the Sharks) credit. That's about it," was all Wild captain Koivu could say about his team's effort. "It's frustrating and it has to change," said Flyers captain Mike Richards after being shut out 2-0 at Ottawa.

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