Blackhawks back in town to play Flyers

Posted: January 05, 2012

IT HAS BEEN 575 days since the Chicago Blackhawks last walked off the then-Wachovia Center ice, a duration that would otherwise be forgettable if not for what happened that night. The Blackhawks left the arena with the Stanley Cup, sapping the Flyers - and the fans who filled the building on that June evening - of the fruits of a memorable playoff run.

"Thanks for pointing that out," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said yesterday after the Flyers' practice preparing for tonight's game against the Blackhawks.

There has been significant turnover on both rosters since 2010, but for the players who remain, a meeting with the Blackhawks still induces painful memories. Center Danny Briere said that night will "be with us for a long time," and imagined a visit to Philadelphia would bring memories for the Blackhawks - although their recollections will be a lot more positive.

Briere still has not watched footage from the decisive Game 6 overtime goal, when Patrick Kane snuck the puck past Michael Leighton to win the Cup. Briere remembers standing in confusion, wondering where the puck was because it had been stuck in the net.

"Every time it comes on, I'll change the channel or close my eyes," Briere said. "I don't think I'm ready to see it yet."

Laviolette has seen it, although he welcomes the footage like he would a flat tire.

"I don't have it on a speed dial on my TV to punch it up and look at it," Laviolette said. "But I don't close my eyes if I see it on the TV. It's part of history. It's what happened."

The two teams played last season in Chicago, when the Flyers left with a 4-1 victory. That was not much consolation, and Briere remembers residual intensity from the Stanley Cup run during the previous season. He said that dwindles each season, and didn't realize until yesterday that tonight's game will be the Blackhawks' first game here since.

"A lot of guys left, but more than that, it's two good teams playing each other," Briere said. "And to us, losing to the Rangers, we want to get back on track."

Briere summed up the sentiment in the Flyers' practice facility yesterday. The Blackhawks' return makes for a good story line, but the team is more concerned with the fact that the Blackhawks are vying for the lead in the Western Conference and the Flyers are rebounding from a loss.

"It's a good game to jump back into," Laviolette said. "After the Winter Classic, it gets your attention right away."

Line dance

With Jaromir Jagr sidelined for 7 to 10 days because of a groin injury, the Flyers needed to shuffle their lines yesterday.

Rookie Matt Read skated with the first line, joining Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. Briere centered between Max Talbot and Jakub Voracek on the second line. James van Riemsdyk skated with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds on the third line.

"I walked in and saw I was on the line with them and thought [Peter Laviolette] made a spelling error," Read joked. "I was excited. You probably get only one of these shots to make the most of the opportunities. I look forward to playing with those guys."

Read has been a model of versatility for the Flyers this season, bouncing between lines and positions. The versatility is valued by Laviolette. Read said what he needs to do with the top line is win puck battles in the corners and set up his high-profile linemates.

"I've played on every line pretty much this season, and it's something you adapt to as quickly as you can," Read said. "You kind of know the players you're playing with, and you mentally prepare to what they're going to do so you can adjust to it."

Jagr's injury also means that either Zac Rinaldo or Jody Shelley will join the lineup. Rinaldo was skating with the fourth line with Sean Couturier and Harry Zolnierczyk.

"It's going to be a confidence booster if I do get the ice time that it's projected to be," Rinaldo said. "If not, it's OK. I'll keep playing. I'll play my shifts as long as I can. If I get 5 minutes one game or 10 minutes another game, it doesn't matter. But it'll be great for me to get more ice time."

Rinaldo was a healthy scratch during the last two games. He's a physical forward who has played 31 games this season with one goal, four assists and 110 penalty minutes.

"Zac's been great for us. As you continue to get health, you end up with tough lineup decisions," Laviolette said. "It's never easy to tell a player who worked their life to get to this level to make a team that they're not in the lineup, they're not ready to play. Saying that, Zac's a valuable part of this team because he brings elements that others can't. He's really effective at what he does. So Zac getting back to the lineup will be valuable to our club."

Leighton chosen

Adirondack Phantoms goalie Michael Leighton was selected for the AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City on Jan. 30. Leighton, who had a stint as the Flyers' top goalie in 2009-10, also was an AHL All-Star in 2002 and 2008.

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