New acquisitions add intrigue to Flyers-Panthers clash (Mar 02, 2017)

The Philadelphia Flyers and Florida Panthers, a pair of teams battling for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference standings, will get their first look at a pair of trade deadline acquisitions Thursday night when they fight for a coveted two points at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Flyers (29-26-7, 65 points) sit three points behind the Panthers (29-23-10, 68 points) and New York Islanders (29-22-10, 68 points) and all three teams are trying to catch the eighth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs (28-21-13), who hold the final playoff spot in the East with 69 points.

The Flyers will make that push with newcomer Valtteri Filppula, a 32-year-old veteran center who is expected to replace Brayden Schenn as the Flyers’ second-line center. Philadelphia acquired Filppula, along with a pair of draft picks, from the Tampa Bay Lightning just before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline in exchange for 39-year-old defenseman Mark Streit, who was then traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Filppula, who has one more season and a no-movement clause remaining on his contract, has seven goals and 34 points in 59 games this season and is expected to make his Flyers debut against the Panthers, possibly on a line with Jakub Voracek and Schenn.

“He makes us a better team,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said. “This gives us another guy who makes plays. We will continue to look for finishers. I look at this as an upgrade in our playmaking.”

The Panthers are hoping they’ve added to their offensive depth by acquiring forward Thomas Vanek from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for defenseman Dylan McIlrath and a third-round draft pick.

Vanek, 33, was leading the Red Wings with 15 goals at the time of the trade. He will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

“Adding Thomas makes us a legitimate team to get into the playoffs first,” Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon told the Sun Sentinel. “The players will like Thomas; he’s a good guy and has been a mentor, has been a real solid citizen in Detroit this year. He’s played very well and he’s playing for a contract.”

The Panthers have won four in a row to climb within one point of the Maple Leafs and with a veteran core than includes Jaromir Jagr and Roberto Luongo, they are hoping Vanek can propel them into the post-season for the second straight season after missing the playoffs in 13 of their previous 14 season.

Vanek could play on a line with youngsters Nick Bjugstad, 24, and Jonathan Marchessault, 26, when the Panthers visit the Flyers.

Meanwhile, the Flyers made a commitment to goaltender Michael Neuvirth on Wednesday, signing him to a two-year, $5 million extension. Neuvirth (10-9-1, 2.90, .887) and Steve Mason (17-17-6, 2.83, .903) have alternated in and out of the starter’s role this season.

Mason is coming off Tuesday night’s 33-save shutout over the Colorado Avalanche but wondered after the game if it might be his last as a Flyer. Mason is scheduled to become an unrestricted on July 1.