Flyers-Penguins Preview

The Philadelphia Flyers have made just one visit to Pittsburgh

in the last 12 months, but they could find themselves spending

quite a bit of time in the Steel City in April.

Sunday’s first of two meetings at Consol Energy Center over the

regular season’s final week could be just the beginning for the

Flyers and Penguins, who appear to be on a collision course to open

the playoffs in western Pennsylvania.

That might not be a bad scenario for the Flyers (45-24-9), who

have never lost in four visits to Consol and could now find

themselves playing there as many as six times in the next

three-and-a-half weeks.

There’s still plenty of positioning to settle in the Eastern

Conference, but barring something unusual, Pittsburgh (48-24-6) and

Philadelphia will open the playoffs against one another for the

second time in four years. The Penguins trail the Atlantic-leading

Rangers by five points for the conference’s top seed, meaning

they’re currently in the No. 4 spot despite having the East’s

second-most points.

Philadelphia trails Pittsburgh by three points, and has a

comfortable lead over sixth-place New Jersey even after Saturday’s

4-3 shootout loss to Ottawa. The Flyers rallied from three down

after one period to grab a point, and were quick to look ahead to

the first of what could be quite a few matchups with the

Penguins.

“I think it’s important to be able to play our best hockey

against them,” center Claude Giroux, held without a point for the

third straight game, told the league’s official website. “It’s

going to be a big game for us and especially on the road. We’ve

been doing a good job on the road. We have mot make sure we’re

doing the same thing (Sunday).”

After a pair of surprising losses to the last-place Islanders,

the Penguins bounced back with Friday’s 5-3 win at red-hot

Buffalo.

“It’s not as easy as just having one game and thinking you’re

there, it’s a process,” Sidney Crosby said after his third

four-point game in 18 this season. “You just try to take everything

in stride, whether you have a good one or a bad one and try to get

better.”

The Flyers can’t be too happy about having to play another

afternoon game Sunday. They’re 4-8-3 in matinees this season and

have been outscored in the first period of those games 24-6 after

an ugly opening 20 minutes Saturday.

They did, however, handle the Penguins during the day March 18,

snapping Pittsburgh’s 11-game winning streak with a 3-2 overtime

win – after naturally falling behind 2-0.

That was Philadelphia’s third win in four games in this season’s

series, and they’re 6-1-1 in their last eight against their

intrastate rivals. Crosby, however, has only played in three of

those eight contests.

Crosby has rarely had trouble producing against the Flyers – he

has 48 points in his last 29 regular-season games in the series –

but Pittsburgh could use more from Evgeni Malkin. The NHL’s leading

scorer has just nine points and is minus-4 in eight games versus

Philadelphia since the start of last season.

The Penguins’ star-studded duo could catch a break Sunday. Ilya

Bryzgalov, who was 10-2-1 with a 1.43 goals-against average in

March, is doubtful after sitting out the past two games with a chip

fracture in his right foot.

Sergei Bobrovsky, though, has plenty of experience winning in

Pittsburgh. He’s been in net for all four of the Flyers’ victories

at Consol, allowing two goals in each while posting a .929 save

percentage.

While Philadelphia will look to get Giroux going – he has five

assists against the Pens this season – its fortunes could come down

to whether Scott Hartnell can score. The Flyers are 22-4-3 when

Hartnell finds the back of the net in 2011-12, and 6-0-0 when he

scores against the Penguins since Dec. 13, 2008.

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia conclude the regular season at

Consol on April 7.