Stuck in an ill-timed rut, the Philadelphia Flyers could use another strong performance against the Buffalo Sabres more than ever.
The Flyers will seek to give their playoff hopes a boost and avoid their longest losing streak in three seasons when they face the team with the league’s worst record Sunday night.
Philadelphia (39-29-9) is 1-4-2 in its last seven games after a 5-2 loss in Boston on Saturday. The Flyers broke a 165-minute scoreless drought but gave up three goals in the third period en route to their fourth consecutive loss.
They remained two points ahead of idle Columbus for the Metropolitan Division’s third and final automatic playoff spot with five games remaining.
"Every game is a must-win," captain Claude Giroux said. "There are a lot of teams behind us trying to make the playoffs. We have played good enough to be in the position we are right now and we can’t forget that.
"We have to remember that we are a good team and we are in this position because we did a lot of good things this year."
Giroux has only one point during the four-game skid for Philadelphia, which hasn’t lost five in a row since March 31-April 8, 2011.
The Flyers would appear to catch a break with a visit from the team that’s guaranteed to finish with the fewest points in the league.
Buffalo (21-47-9) secured that dubious distinction by going 2-12-1 in its last 15. The Sabres have suffered five consecutive road losses while getting limited to six goals following a 3-2 defeat in Detroit on Friday.
Philadelphia has won both meetings this season and seven of the past nine. Matt Read scored twice in a 4-1 victory Nov. 21 – the Flyers’ fourth straight at home in the series – and Vincent Lecavalier had the last of his club’s three third-period goals in a 4-3 road win Jan. 14.
The Flyers faced the since-traded Ryan Miller and currently injured Jhonas Enroth in Buffalo’s net in those two games, but now the Sabres will choose between two goaltenders who have played a combined 24 NHL games. With Enroth and Michal Neuvirth sidelined by lower-body injuries, rookie Nathan Lieuwen made his fourth start in Thursday’s loss at St. Louis before Matt Hackett made his fifth of the season Friday.
Hackett stopped 28 shots, including 19 in the final two periods after giving up three goals in the first 15:28 against the Red Wings.
"That was a big game for Matt, especially after the first period and the way he fought back and the way he battled back," coach Ted Nolan said. "That’s what we want to see from the team moving forward, who is going to battle and who is going to compete."
With Ray Emery starting Saturday’s loss, Philadelphia will likely put Steve Mason back in net. Mason has a 2.00 goals-against average in his last nine starts.
Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell has a team-best four points in the season series but has none in his last four games overall.
The Flyers follow this matchup with a three-game road trip before hosting Carolina in their regular-season finale April 13.