PITTSBURGH - The Flyers, boosted by Danny Briere's return to good health, and the sizzling Pittsburgh Penguins will meet today in a nationally televised game that could be a first-round playoff preview and might factor into who gets home-ice advantage in that round.
The teams are tied for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference with 86 points, though the Flyers have three games in hand.
"If we win this game, it'll be a huge swing for us," Briere said.
"These are all four-point games," said goalie Marty Biron, mindful the Flyers have a test tomorrow against powerful New Jersey. "We're playing a lot of teams that are battling for position. To go into Pittsburgh, it's a big challenge. We have to clean up our game a little bit, because the way we played in the first two periods [against Buffalo on Friday] isn't going to do it. In the third period, we got our legs going and were disciplined."
The Flyers committed 10 penalties in the first two periods in Friday's 6-4 win. Buffalo finished with seven power-play opportunities, but failed to convert.
As for the Penguins, they are the NHL's hottest team. Since Dan Bylsma was named interim coach Feb, 15, they are 12-1-3, including 10-0-2 in their last 12 games.
The Flyers have won just one of five games (1-2-2) against the Penguins, who ousted Philadelphia in the conference finals last year in five games. The Flyers were without their top defensemen, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn, for most of that series.
Both are healthy now. So, apparently, is Briere, who has missed 53 games this season because of groin and abdominal injuries.
Playing in his fifth game since his most recent return to the lineup, Briere scored two goals to ignite Friday's win.
"Danny's two goals really lifted me and lifted the whole team," Biron said.
It lifted Briere, too. He hadn't scored a goal since Nov. 11.
"It took a lot of weight off my shoulders," he said.
"Physically, I thought he looked a lot stronger, and looked like he had confidence shooting the puck and getting open ice," coach John Stevens said.
Friday's outburst marked just the third time since Dec. 26 that the Flyers had scored six goals in a game. And they did it after Stevens revamped all four lines.
The biggest benefactor was Briere, who spent the game mostly with Jeff Carter and Scott Hartnell. Briere had been primarily on the fourth line recently.
"I think it helps," Stevens said of Briere's promotion. "He played very well with Hartnell last year when [Vinny] Prospal came on board, and Jeff Carter has been one of our better offensive players all year. Jeff likes to carry the puck to the middle of the ice, and Danny can get to holes and get open. Hopefully, it's a sign of things to come."
"When you're playing with Jeff Carter, one of the top goal scorers in the NHL, it's a huge boost. I was pretty fired up," Briere said. "I think we have a little bit of everything on our line."
Briere has the creativity, Carter has the booming wrist shot, and Hartnell has the physicality to disrupt matters in front of the net.
Briere said he was almost as healthy as at any time in the season, even before his two operations.
"I'm getting pretty close," he said. "I felt I took a huge step in the Detroit game [Tuesday] and again [vs. Buffalo]. I felt a lot looser. It seems that every game, I'm taking another step - as far as feeling better and less pain, and getting a bigger range of motion. I hope it keeps going that way."
The Penguins have two of the league's elite scorers, Evgeni Malkin (104 points) and Sidney Crosby (94). Crosby has 20 goals and 25 assists in 25 career games against the Flyers. It was Crosby who scored a bizarre goal - after Biron came far out of the net in an unsuccessful attempt to clear the puck - with 2 minutes, 45 seconds left to give Pittsburgh a 5-4 win Feb. 21.
Jones update. Defenseman Randy Jones, who has missed the last two games with a hip injury, said he felt "almost 100 percent" at yesterday's practice. It will be a game-time decision on whether he plays today.