Flyers search for turnaround vs. slumping Lightning

PHILADLEPHIA -- Since a 10-game win streak solidified them as a team capable of not only getting into the playoffs but perhaps winning a round, the Philadelphia Flyers found ways to erode the confidence of the fans by losing seven of the last eight games.

The Flyers (20-15-5, 45 points) will try to reverse that trend with a new-look lineup Saturday afternoon in a showdown against the Tampa Bay Lightning (19-17-4, 42 points), a team trying to catch them in the Eastern Conference wild-card playoff hunt.

Goaltender Michal Neuvirth is expected to make his first start for the Flyers since injuring his knee on Nov. 12. With back-to-back games against the Lightning and Blue Jackets this weekend, Philadelphia coach Dave Hakstol is expected to give Steve Mason a breather. Mason has played nine straight games and started 22 of Flyers' last 24 games.

The Flyers' top three lines will look differently than they did on Wednesday night, when the Rangers handed them their fifth straight loss. Right wing Matt Read is expected to replace Jakub Voracek on a top line with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl. Sean Couturier is centering a second line with Voracek and rookie Travis Konecny while Brayden Schenn is centering a third with Wayne Simmonds and Nick Cousins.

"The panic button hasn't been hit yet, but it's coming up closely," Read told "We have a lot better performances to give."

The Lightning are having a tough time treading water waiting for Steven Stamkos to recover from a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee that is expected to keep him out until March. After a modest 2-0-1 streak, the Bolts lost two straight games by a combined 12-5, including a 6-1 drubbing at home to the Nashville Predators on Thursday night.

Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was thrust into the starting role with Ben Bishop injured, surrendered all six goals against the Predators, including four on the first eight shots he faced. Lightning coach Jon Cooper opted to keep Vasilevskiy in the entire game instead of using rookie Adam Wilcox, who was called up Wednesday from AHL Syracuse for his first NHL appearance.

Vasilevskiy, 22, is expected to get the start against the Flyers, and could also get the call Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"He's a young goalie, and eventually he's going to be a starting goalie in this league," Cooper told the Tampa Bay Times. "You're not going to have your 'A' game every single night. Nobody does. Hall of Famer goaltenders have all gone through this."

Goaltending is not the only problem with the Lightning. Their team defense has been shaky all season and ranks 25th in the NHL with 115 goals allowed. The Flyers' team defense, ranked 27th with 121 goals against, has been equally suspect this season.

"You're not going to see this team fold," Tampa defenseman Victor Hedman said after Thursday night's lopsided loss. "You're going to see this team rise to the occasion. We've seen it so many times before."
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