NHL

Flyers-Penguins Preview

Injuries to Christian Ehrhoff and Kris Letang have left the Pittsburgh Penguins down a defenseman, forcing a five-man rotation to play heavy minutes as they fight for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

The Philadelphia Flyers would like nothing more than to make their rivals' situation more difficult.

Pittsburgh looks to avoid dropping a seventh straight meeting when it hosts Philadelphia on Wednesday night.

Ehrhoff has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury, and Letang was hospitalized after taking a hit from Arizona's Shane Doan in Saturday's 3-2 victory.

Letang was released Sunday with a concussion, but the Penguins (42-23-11) were left with Ben Lovejoy, Paul Martin, Rob Scuderi, Ian Cole and Derrick Pouliot on defense for that day's 3-2 shootout win over San Jose.

Pittsburgh doesn't have enough salary cap space to call up another defenseman, and it likely will be in the same situation against the Flyers (30-29-17) with Ehrhoff and Letang expected to sit out again.

The Penguins are tied with the New York Islanders for second in the Metropolitan Division.

"Every single guy, all five of us have to step up and take on more minutes, more responsibility, create more and help out as much as we can," Cole told the team's official website. "It's exciting. I get to play a lot more. I get to be in the flow of the game. That part is a positive as long as you don't get too tired."

The task becomes even more difficult to stop Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Voracek trails Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby by three for the NHL points lead and has two goals and five assists during a four-game point streak against the Penguins.

Giroux has two goals and eight assists in a five-game run in the series.

"No matter how the year goes for us or them, it's always a big rivalry and heated games, a lot of emotion and intensity in them," Martin said. "I'm sure I wouldn't expect anything different."

Philadelphia has been eliminated from postseason contention, but it has had plenty of recent success against the Penguins. The Flyers, who have won the last four matchups in Pittsburgh, got two assists apiece from Voracek and Giroux in a 5-3 win Oct. 22 before Giroux scored in overtime of a 3-2 victory Jan. 20.

"When you play against Pittsburgh you have to prepare to battle," coach Craig Berube said. "Our team gets fired up to play them for sure."

The Flyers haven't appeared to possess that mentality against other clubs lately. They're 1-2-3 over their last six after falling 3-2 to San Jose in a shootout Saturday. Voracek had two assists.

"I try to prepare for it just like any other game. I don't look at it as we're playing Pittsburgh," Voracek said. "Obviously it's a little more emotional, but that's about it."

Steve Mason made 42 saves against the Sharks and likely will be making his first start against the Penguins this season.

"They're games that have been fun to be a part of and intense," Mason said. "But every game is its own game. They're going to be hungry for the two points just as we will be."

Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 2-3-1 with a 3.09 goals-against average over his last six, is expected to be in net for Pittsburgh. He's winless with a 4.04 GAA in his last five starts against the Flyers.

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