Defenseman Kimmo Timonen, called “the little engine that could” by teammate Scott Hartnell, will reach a milestone, and the Flyers will be (yes, you’ve heard this before) in desperation mode when they visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday night.
Fact is, EVERY game is critical for the 11th-place Flyers, who are four points behind Carolina for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot with 19 games to play.
“This is huge. It’s points we can’t blow away,” Hartnell said after a spirited, 1 hour and 15-minute practice Sunday in Voorhees. “We can’t say, ‘Oh well, we’ll get it next game,’ or whatever. We need every point in every possible game.”
After Monday, the Flyers (13-15-1) will be given two days off, and they won’t play again until Sunday in Pittsburgh.
The two days of rest and three days to fine-tune their game at practice _ a luxury in a season with a crammed schedule _ is a plus.
This isn’t: The Flyers will watch helplessly as other teams play games in hand _ and either pad their cushion or gain ground on them in the standings.
Hence, it is critical for the Flyers _ who have a 4-11 road record _ to collect points in Tampa. The teams split a pair of decisions at the Wells Fargo Center earlier this season. Since then, Tampa Bay (12-15-1) has tumbled and is 6-14-1 after a 6-1 start. The Lightning will be without injured captain Vinny Lecavalier.
Timonen, a five-time all-star selection, will celebrate his 38th birthday Monday by becoming the 282d player (and sixth from Finland) in NHL history to play in 1,000 games.
Last week, the 5-foot-10, 194-pound Timonen said reaching the milestone would be a “great honor,” but on Sunday, he refused to talk about it.
“I don’t want to jinx it,” he said.
Timonen, a 14-year veteran acquired with Hartnell from Nashville in 2007, has played at least 72 games in each of the last 11 seasons.
“He’s been a great player in this league ever since he got here,” said Braydon Coborn, Timonen’s former defensive partner. “He’s not the fastest guy. He’s not the biggest guy. He’s a tough little Finn. He’s been a smart player to be in the league that long.”
Timonen, who showed his grit by overcoming a blood clot in his foot and returning to play in the 2008 conference finals, wanted to change the focus away from him and toward the Flyers’ playoff push.
“We’ve got to start winning games,” he said. “The way we’ve been going, we win one game and maybe lose one or two after that. That’s not going to work out. We’ve got to start putting some wins together, and that means three or four games together and go from there.”
The Flyers, coming off a 2-1 shootout win over New Jersey, held a lively practice Sunday that included many one-on-one and two-on-two drills with a goalie; the losers did pushups.
“The game of hockey, it’s a lot of one-on-one battles, and if you win those battles, you usually get in a good shot and you’re going to be with the puck more,” Timonen said. “It was a really good practice; we battled hard and hopefully we can translate that to the game.”
Breakaways. Peter Laviolette said he appreciates Timonen, a team leader known for his dry sense of humor, more in “all areas” since he started coaching him….The Flyers have scored just one even-strength goal in the last 14 periods……In the Flyers’ 2-1 win over Tampa Bay last month, Tom Sestito scored two goals. Vancouver has since claimed Sestito off waivers. Hartnell and Wayne Simmonds missed that game with injuries….Max Talbot missed Sunday’s practice for personal reasons… Surprisingly, Brayden Schenn did not have a hearing for his hit on New Jersey’s Peter Harrold on Friday….The Lightning’s Steve Stamkos leads the NHL with 20 goals….Center Ben Holmstrom signed a contract for next season that will play him $600,000 with the Flyers and $285,000 if he’s with the Phantoms.
Contact Sam Carchidi at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.