Flyers must exploit lowly Buffalo, Florida

The Flyers' Wayne Simmonds. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

BOSTON _ For the fading Flyers, the good news is that their next two games are against the NHL’s weakest teams _ Buffalo on Sunday, and at Florida on Tuesday.

But there are no “gimmes” in the NHL these days.

Take Saturday, for instance. That’s when the New York Rangers lost at home to lowly Ottawa, 3-2, and remained four points ahead of the third-place Flyers, who have two games in hand.Saturday also saw Winnipeg, already out of the Western Conference playoff race, register a 4-2 win at Toronto, a desperate team that is in the thick of the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

In other words, teams out of the playoff races _ like Buffalo and Florida _ can play loose and relaxed.

That said, do the Flyers (87 points) deserve to be considered a serious playoff contender if they can’t beat a team like the injury-riddled Sabres (51 points) at the Wells Fargo Center?

Buffalo brings an 8-27-3 road record into the 7:30 p.m. game, but the Sabres were competitive in one- goal road losses last week to powerful St. Louis and sizzling Detroit.

The Flyers have 4-1 (with an empty-net goal) and 4-3 victories over the Sabres this season. In the latter win, Vinny Lecavalier scored with 14.8 seconds left to snap a 3-3 tie on Jan. 14.

The Flyers, losers of four straight and six of their last seven, are two points ahead of Columbus in a battle for third place in the Metro _ and an automatic playoff bid. Both teams have five games remaining.

Breakaways. Coach Craig Berube said after Saturday’s 5-2 loss in Boston (see story) that he wasn’t sure if Lecavalier (minus-2, lost five of six faceoffs) would remain on the second line, or if Jay Rosehill (goal, three hits) would stay in the lineup Sunday.  Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn alternated at center and left wing Saturday….Wayne Simmonds took over the team lead with his 26th goal, one more than Claude Giroux…..Slumping: Defensive specialist Sean Couturier has one goal in his last 23 games, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn each have one goal in their last 10 games, and Scott Hartnell has one goal in his last seven games….Nick Grossmann and Mark Streit were each minus-3 Saturday….Adam Hall won seven of eight faceoffs (88 percent), and Zac Rinaldo had seven hits. ..Buffalo’s Ville Leino, a former Flyer, has no goals in 55 games this season…The Flyers have killed 44 of their last 47 penalties.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.