Flyers veteran right winger Matt Read, banished to the minors until recently, knows that his career is at a crossroads, and that how he plays in the final weeks of the regular season could determine whether he has a future in the NHL.
So far, so good.
In his first two games since returning to the Flyers lineup, Read has been in the middle of numerous scoring chances and has played well on the penalty kill.
"Just hoping to get an opportunity and run with it," Read said before playing in his third straight game, Monday's 3-2 loss to Vegas. "Go out there and do the little things that allow me to stay in the lineup and help this team hopefully go on a little run here and go on a playoff run."
Read, 31, who scored 24 goals in 2011-12 and finished fourth in the rookie-of-the-year voting, called it a humbling experience to spend most of the season in the AHL with the Phantoms.
"I learned a lot about myself and a lot of life lessons down there," he said.
Read's family stayed in Philadelphia while he was in Allentown.
"It was a tough," he said. "…I said, if I get another opportunity, I'm not going to let it happen again. I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I'm at the top of my game."
Read is in the final year of a contract that has a $3.6 million cap hit. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
The final weeks of this season are "my last life. Every day, I'm trying to earn something for the future, and if I let it slip away or [don't] play as well as I can, it could be the end of my NHL career. You never know," Read said. "I'm fighting for my hockey career here, and [I want to] have fun with it at the same time."
Read acknowledged that there was "something missing in his game" over his previous three seasons – a high-ankle sprain cut into his speed and started his downfall – but that he gained some confidence with the Phantoms this year.
He doesn't have the speed he had when he entered the NHL as a free agent out of Bemidji State, so he tries to compensate with his smarts and by being "the hardest-working guy on the ice every day."
Read has been on a line with Scott Laughton and Jori Lehtera, a winger who didn't score in his first 40 games with the Flyers but entered Monday with three goals in his last 11 games.
"I've been feeling way better," Lehtera, 30, said. "…Scoring a couple goals brings confidence, and I know better now what the coach wants from me."
Win board battles, play steady defense, chip in with some goals, and be effective on the penalty kill. For Lehtera and Read, those are the elements coach Dave Hakstol wants to see in the stretch run.