Flyers stumbling to (first-half) finish line

   TAMPA _ In their last two games, the Flyers have lost too many board battles and created few good scoring chances against teams that had been struggling.

    As a result, they have lost two straight and look like a team that needs a recharging. The all-star break, which starts after Wednesday's game, can't come soon enough. (And, yes, they could also use a healthy Danny Briere.)

   Thursday, the Flyers dropped a 4-1 decision to a Tampa Bay team that is one of the worst in the Eastern Conference.

    The Flyers allowed 44 shots. Last week, they allowed lowly Toronto to take 42 shots.

    That kind of defense won't cut it when the playoffs roll around. The Flyers need to get back to a defense-first mentality.

     Thursday's loss, which cost the Flyers a chance to move into first place in the Atlantic Division, came on the heels of Tuesday's listless 4-2 defeat to scuffling Pittsburgh.

    The Flyers will not have a morning skate Friday, but coach John Stevens has called a team meeting for 11:30 a.m.

    All of a sudden, Friday night's game at Florida is critical. Another loss would conjure memories of last year's fade. You'll recall that the Flyers went on a 10-game losing streak last February and went from No. 2 to No. 10 in the Eastern Conference.

    This year's team is stronger than last year's, mainly because Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have blossomed into stars. But Richards has been out of gas the last two games and the Flyers need him _ and his teammates _ to regroup to take some momentum into the all-star break. (They have two games before the break: Friday in Florida, and Wednesday against Atlanta.)

    Thursday's game showed how important defenseman Kimmo Timonen is to the Flyers. Timonen, a superb defenseman who is vital to the Flyers' special teams, was injured when a puck hit his face midway through the first period. He was administered several stitches and did no return.

     Without Timonen, the Flyers' defense struggled _ just like it did when he was injured in last year's Eastern Conference finals.

     If Timonen can't play Friday, Luca Sbisa would get the call.

    One of the few bright spots Thursday was the terrific play of rookie center Darroll Powe, who was the Flyers' best offensive player.