Thrust into the lineup because of a back injury to

Matt Carle,

Lasse Kukkonen

has given a strong account of himself on the third defensive pairing.

"He's been tremendous," coach John Stevens said before last night's game against the Islanders.

"He seems to create offensive opportunities for our team, and he doesn't get [many] scoring-chances-against when he's on the ice."

Kukkonen, 27, played in his fourth straight game last night and was paired with Luca Sbisa early in the contest. He had been a healthy scratch in 11 of the first 22 games.

"He pushes the pace in practice every day and has great enthusiasm," Stevens said. "He kind of sets the example for the guys who are out of your lineup - that if you do the extra work and stay ready, you can come in and be a good player."

Sitting out so often "is tough mentally, but at the same time, there are so many things in this business that you can't control," Kukkonen said. "You can't control your ice time or whether you're going to play or not. All you can do is try to be ready and try to be in shape."

Kukkonen is a lame duck of sorts. Having already cleared waivers, he probably will be sent to the Phantoms when Carle and Randy Jones (hip) return from injuries. Both could be in the lineup by Tuesday.

"Those things pop in your mind once in a while, but you have to put it behind you," Kukkonen said. "If something happens, it happens. I just try to do my job when I get my chance."

Ber-nie, Ber-nie!

Former Flyers great

Bernie Parent

will be honored as the Living Legend winner at the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association's banquet on Jan. 26 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Cherry Hill.

The Spectrum will be remembered at the banquet for its place in Philadelphia sports history. For tickets, go to pswadinner.com.

Breakaways

General manager

Paul Holmgren

said that he contacted center

Mats Sundin's

agent 10 days ago, but that he was "not optimistic" about signing the free agent. If Sundin decides to play, the price for signing him is expected to be at least $4 million. Vancouver is believed to be the front-runner for his services.

Defenseman Danny Syvret leads the Phantoms in points with 25, while winger Claude Giroux tops the club with 12 goals. Goalie Scott Munroe is 11-5 with a 2.43 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

- Sam Carchidi