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SENATORS UPDATE: Cory Clouston audio (MP3 file) from practice today.
The Philadelphia Flyers broke out of their recent slump and moved back into the Eastern Conference's top four by taking advantage of a struggling opponent.
They'll look to stay there and clinch a second straight playoff berth against another team finishing a disappointing campaign.
However, winning in Ottawa hasn't proved easy for most opponents lately, and it's been more difficult recently for the Flyers, who seek just their fifth road victory in 10 seasons over the Senators on Saturday night.
After three losses in four games, general manager Paul Holmgren publicly criticized some of his players for their poor performances. The Flyers responded with their best offensive game of the season - an 8-5 home victory Friday night over Toronto.
Wrapping up a home-and-home series with the Maple Leafs, Philadelphia scored five goals in the first period, and Jeff Carter recorded his first NHL hat trick.
"We were sitting comfortably in fourth place, and sometimes you lose that intensity," center Danny Briere said. "That was a wake-up call, and we responded."
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With the win, the Flyers moved one point ahead of Carolina for fourth in the East, which carries home-ice advantage in the first round. With a seven-point advantage over idle Florida, Philadelphia (42-25-10) needs a victory over the Senators to nail down its second straight playoff appearance, but the Flyers have often come up empty in their recent trips to Ottawa.
Since 1998-99, Philadelphia is 4-10-1 with five ties at Scotiabank Place, and has one win in its last six road games over the Senators. Philadelphia lost 4-1 in its previous trip Nov. 6.
Carter moved into second in the league with 44 goals, and Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell have each reached 30. Claude Giroux has also tallied a goal in three straight games, but the Flyers have only outscored opponents by a 31-26 margin in the past eight contests while allowing at least three goals in each of the last five.
In addition to scoring three of his eight goals in the last three contests, Giroux has recorded three straight multipoint performances, and has seven points in that span.
Although they will miss the postseason for the first time since 1995-96, the Senators have acted like a playoff team on their home ice, where they look to win eight straight for the first time since Nov. 14-Dec. 14, 2002.
Ottawa (33-34-10) enters Saturday's game having lost four of its last five to conclude a six-game road trip and dropping into last in the Northeast Division. The Senators couldn't capitalize on Daniel Alfredsson's early goal and 31 saves by Alex Auld 31 in a 2-1 defeat to East-leading Boston on Thursday night.
"We were one shot away and it's disappointing, but the guys' effort was definitely there," Ottawa interim coach Cory Clouston said. "They make you pay. They're a very good team. A couple of little turnovers like that and they make you pay."
A lagging offense can take much of the blame for the team's recent woes as the Senators have scored 10 goals in the last five games.
The Flyers have lost two of three meetings this season with Ottawa, but are 4-2-1 in their last seven.