GAME PREVIEW: Flyers vs. Dallas Stars

The Game: After earning a well-deserved point in Nashville on Tuesday night, the Flyers will look to stay in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race as they take on the Dallas Stars later this evening.

The Flyers dug themselves a hole against their opponents in Nashville on Tuesday, and lost their starting goaltender to a high ankle sprain to boot.  However, the team persevered both in goal and on the offensive, as back-up Brian Boucher made 24 stops on 25  Nashville opportunities, and the offense finally came through with two timely goals under the ten minute mark of the third to send the game into overtime.  Nonetheless, the Flyers haven’t been playing their best hockey lately.  Their shootout loss on Tuesday dropped them to seventh in the East, with 77 points.  They are one point out of 6th, two points out of 5th, and ten points out of 4th, with at least one game in hand on every team in front of them in those slots (Montreal, Ottawa, and Pittsburgh, respectively).  The Flyers are 5-3-2 in their last ten contests, but only 4-3-2 since the Olympics Break.  Their opponent, Dallas, is 4-5-1 in their last ten games, and are on the outside looking in for the Western Conference’s playoff picture.  The Stars are making a frantic late push for postseason hockey and the Flyers will once again be subject to matching their opponent’s intensity at the American Airlines Arena tonight.

The Story: The plot of this game is as simple as it gets: two teams that need two points going at each others throats for the right to call themselves the victor.  However, the Flyers need to come into this game realizing that although on paper they are a better team than Dallas, the Stars are going to scratch and claw for two points until the end of this game.  Speaking of the game, Brian Boucher will make his first start as a Flyer this season since a December 21, 2009 nod was given to him by Coach Laviolette against the Ottawa Senators.  Boucher will be opposed by either end of a strong goaltending tandem in Dallas.  The Stars will start either Marty Turco or Kari Lehtonen, as they look to find the hot hand to guide them down the stretch run of the NHL’s season.  Both ‘keepers have started in goal for some time (Turco in Dallas, Lehtonen with the Atlanta Thrashers) and neither are slouches when it comes to backstopping their team.  As an offensive unit, the Stars are coming off of their most explosive game of the season on Tuesday night, as they tattooed the Western Conference-leading San Jose Sharks for 8 goals in an 8-2 victory.  The Stars are currently the West’s 12th-seeded team, 7 points behind Detroit for the 8th and final playoff spot.

Who to Watch on the Stars: Loui Eriksson, Left Wing.

Eriksson is one of the NHL's best young snipers

Brad Richards may be the Stars’ biggest playmaker – for now – but keep an eye on the young 24-year old left winger.  He’s the next great player out of Sweden, and he’s certainly one of the young shining stars in the NHL today.  I had the pleasure of seeing him compete on the Sverige at the Olympic Games, and let me tell you, this kid can play.  This season, his fourth with the Stars, Eriksson is three total points away from tying his career high in a season.  He’s currently sitting on totals of 25 goals, 35 assists, and 60 points.  Last season was his best year as an NHLer, tallying 36 goals en route to 63 points.  Although his goals aren’t as high as last year, there are still 13 games for his Stars to play and Eriksson is electric enough of a player that he can make things happen game in a game out.  He’s very dangerous on Dallas’ powerplay, working the sideboards and the backdoor very well.  The Flyers had better watch out for Dallas’s #21 tonight.

The Skinny: This is the second and final meeting between the Flyers and Stars this season.  The two clubs met previously in Philadelphia on January 12th.  The Flyers won the game convincingly, by a score of 6-3, thanks to a Gordie Howe Hat Trick (Goal, Assist, Fight) from Ian Laperriere.  This game marks a huge turning point in the season for the Flyers as it begins the tenure of Brian Boucher as the starting goaltender.  To be honest, no one really knows what type of Boucher we’re going to get.  If we get the focused Boucher from Nashville, the Flyers will reap the benefits.  If we get the 4-12 on the season Boucher, the Flyers playoff hopes may soon go to the toilet.  Either way, it will definitely be an exciting finish with #33 in between the pipes, and hopefully the Flyers can sweep the season series from Dallas tonight.

Notes: In Leighton’s absence, goaltender Jeremy Duchesne has been brought up as an emergency call-up by General Manager Paul Holmgren.  Duchesne previously has played for two Flyers minor league affiliates this season, the Kamloomps Wings of the ECHL and the Adirondack Phantoms of the AHL.  Tonight will mark the first appearance in an NHL uniform for Duchesne.  Mike Modano will miss this game for Dallas and every game in the Stars’ forseeable future due to an emergency appendectomy he had earlier this week.  Modano elected to stay in Dallas at the trade deadline after a few teams inquired about the future Hall of Famer’s services.

Puck drop is at 8:30 PM EST tonight from the American Airlines Arena.  Jim Jackson, Keith Jones, and Steve Coates will have the call on Comcast SportsNet.

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