Flyers-Blue Jackets Preview
The Philadelphia Flyers have had few letdowns while compiling one of the NHL's best records over the past month.
Fresh off a pivotal win over a division rival, they'll need to avoid a slip up when they continue their late-season playoff push Tuesday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Twelfth in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 24, Philadelphia (35-24-12) has gone 9-2-1 since to close within a point of eighth-place Detroit with a game in hand. The Flyers are now just three back of the New York Islanders for the first wild card after Monday's 4-1 win in Brooklyn that opened a critical four-game trip.
Balanced scoring and solid goaltending have been constants during Philadelphia's surge, and the trend continued Monday. Four different players had goals and Steve Mason recorded 23 saves to improve to 5-1-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in seven March starts.
"The guys are playing hard and they're playing together," coach Dave Hakstol told the NHL's official website. "We've known all along that we've got a tough battle to get above the line in the playoff race. The guys are having fun and they're working hard right now. There's a goal in mind, but I think every day it's more critical to focus on the task at hand, to show up, to play hard, and have fun while you're doing it."
Philadelphia is averaging 3.42 goals per game during its 12-game run, with eight players scoring three or more over that span.
The Flyers' next challenge will be maintaining their focus against a Columbus team it routed 6-0 in Philadelphia on March 5 but hasn't beaten on the road since Dec. 13. 2005. The Blue Jackets have won seven straight meetings at Nationwide Arena, pulling out a 3-2 shootout victory on Dec. 19.
"We have to move on to (Tuesday) and bring the same effort," center Nick Cousins said.
While Philadelphia's offense has been consistently productive for much of its rise, Columbus (29-35-8) has been feast or famine in that department throughout the season's second half. The Blue Jackets have scored four or more goals in each of their last eight wins and two or less in all of their past 13 losses.
After mustering three goals during a three-game skid from March 11-17, the Jackets broke out in Saturday's 6-3 home victory over New Jersey before struggling again in Sunday's 2-1 loss to the Devils.
"Neither team gave the other too much," said coach John Tortorella. "I don't think we played badly. We just couldn't score."
Slumps by some of its top forwards have contributed to Columbus' erratic performances. While Cam Atkinson has six goals over a nine-game stretch, Brandon Saad has none over his last six, ex-Flyer Scott Hartnell zero over his past seven and Brandon Dubinsky none over a 10-game span.
Columbus managed only 19 shots in the March 5 loss as Mason posted his fourth shutout of the season. The former Blue Jacket has a 1.95 GAA while starting all three prior matchups this season, though he could give way for Anthony Stolarz's NHL debut with the Flyers playing on consecutive nights.
Stolarz, 19-15-3 with a 2.59 GAA in 42 games for Lehigh Valley of the AHL, was recalled Sunday with Michal Neuvirth out for the regular season with a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky had 27 saves on Saturday to earn his first win since a 27-save effort in a 4-1 victory at Philadelphia on Dec. 5. The former Flyer allowed 10 goals in losing his first three starts since returning from a groin injury earlier this month.