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Dave Hakstol: Flyers have 'put the ball back in our court'

The Flyers, trying to build on their 7-2-1 run, will resume their schedule Thursday in Florida against the Panthers.

Jake Voracek (center), battling against two Sabres in a recent game, entered Wednesday as the NHL’s fifth-leading scorer.
Jake Voracek (center), battling against two Sabres in a recent game, entered Wednesday as the NHL’s fifth-leading scorer.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK

When the Flyers resume the season Thursday in South Florida against the Panthers, they have some ground to make up.

But it could be worse.

By going on a 7-2-1 run after a 10-game winless streak, they were just four points out of a playoff spot entering Wednesday's action.

"We've battled our way back into it, but we've got a lot of work to do," coach Dave Hakstol said after the Flyers' last game, a 2-1 shootout loss in Columbus on Saturday, before their holiday break. "It's been a good stretch for our team. We've kind of put the ball back in our court. I think we all feel we have the ability to control our own destiny."

The Flyers (15-13-8) will play the Panthers (15-16-5), and on Friday they'll face the best-in-the-NHL Lightning (26-7-2) in Tampa. They'll return to Philly for a four-game homestand that starts Tuesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.

The homestand also includes games against the Islanders, Brayden Schenn and St. Louis, and Buffalo. Those games will be followed by a five-day break.

"It's going to be a battle until the end again, like every single year," winger Jake Voracek said. "I think we've been pretty solid over the last 10 games, and we can build off of it."

They will be trying to avoid the post-holiday blues. They are 0-9-2 in road trips that have immediately followed Christmas in the last three seasons.

Voracek (44 points) and Claude Giroux (42) entered Wednesday fifth and seventh in the league, respectively, in scoring. Sean Couturier was tied for 14th in the NHL with a team-leading 16 goals (two more than Sidney Crosby), a career high.

Veteran goalie Brian Elliott has started 11 straight games and has appeared in 20 of the last 21 contests. He might get the nod against the Panthers, although Michal Neuvirth, who hasn't played since Nov. 28 because of an injury, is available. Neuvirth made 40 saves when the Flyers defeated visiting Florida, 5-1, on Oct. 17. (If Neuvirth doesn't play Thursday, he figures to get the start Friday against Tampa Bay.)

As for Elliott, the first-year Flyer said he has thrived on the workload.

"I feel great. You get into a little bit of a rhythm, and I think you conserve energy once you start feeling good and you're not wasting energy being nervous or anything," he said after the hard-fought loss to Columbus.  "You're just going out there and playing the game. I've felt good over the stretch."

Elliott, 32, said the Flyers "are in a better spot than we could have been. We have to be happy about that. We know [the postseason is] within reach, and we have to keep plugging away. These points, especially divisional points, are big."

The Flyers will play 39 of their last 46 games against Eastern Conference teams.

"I feel good about our team," defenseman Ivan Provorov said. "We're playing hard. We're getting better. That 10-game losing streak kind of set us back a little for points, but we stuck with it and kept battling and we're going to continue to do that."

While the Flyers' five-on-five play has been solid, their special teams have been a disappointment. They need to improve their penalty kill (29th out of 31 teams) and power play (15th) if they are going to make strides.

Based on recent history, a huge contingent of Flyers fans is expected at both Florida games during the trip.