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Flyers reeling as they head into playoffs
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - The Flyers lost their grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
The coach wants passion.
The general manager wants a wake-up call.
The team wants good health and strong play in the final two games of the season that will prove it is still the team to beat in the East.
Time is running out for the Flyers to show all of that.
Philadelphia hopes it hasn't completely abandoned its winning formula before the first postseason faceoff next week. The Flyers could get a sneak preview Friday in Buffalo against a Sabres team that stands as their likely first-round opponent. The Flyers are second in the East, and have all but lost their shot at winning the conference.
Meanwhile, the late-season swoon allowed Washington to grab the top spot in the East. The Capitals have won four straight games and can drop out of first only if they lose in regulation to Florida on Saturday and if the Flyers win their final two games.
Win two? Well, for starters, the Flyers want just one.
Philadelphia fell hard down the stretch and is on a four-game losing streak. Even worse, the Flyers have lost six straight on their usually intimidating home ice.
"We've been waiting for eight months to get to the playoffs," forward Scott Hartnell said. "Seven months out of those eight, we've been great. This last month, we've not been great. Maybe it's a lull before we get jacked up again."
The Flyers ended last season losers of eight of 12, but turned the corner in the playoffs and reached Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals before losing to Chicago.
The Flyers can still win the Atlantic Division and finish in second. Philadelphia trails Washington by four points in the standings (107-103), but leads Pittsburgh in the Atlantic by a point. If the Flyers win the division, they'll automatically earn a top-three seed.
Both teams have two games left and Philadelphia has already clinched the first tiebreaker (non-shootout wins). But a No. 1 seed that seemed like an empty-net situation at the start of the month has twisted into a 3-on-5 disadvantage.
"It's hard to sit here," coach Peter Laviolette said, "and make excuses for it."
Laviolette has help on the way, though. All-Star forward Danny Briere (63 points) could play Friday despite his lower-body injury. And defenseman Chris Pronger is day to day with a broken right hand. Pronger, perhaps Philadelphia's most valuable defenseman, expects to return for the postseason.
Pronger was hurt on Feb. 24 against the New York Islanders when his hand was struck with a puck. The Flyers started a four-game losing streak the next game and haven't been the same since he went down.
But GM Paul Holmgren, a former Flyer, doesn't want excuses. Holmgren, who didn't get into details about a team meeting he called, wants the Flyers out of their funk _ now.
Pronger does, too.
"It's always good to talk about what needs to be done, but talk is cheap," Pronger said. "We've got to go out and prove it on the ice."
Maybe a trip to Buffalo can start the turnaround. The Flyers have already set a team record this season with 25 road wins. They won only 21 times at the Wells Fargo Center and finish the season there Saturday.
Laviolette, who led the Carolina Hurricanes to a Stanley Cup championship, has implored the Flyers to ratchet up their speed, their passion, more of the intangibles that he says are "what makes us great."
"We need to do it," he said. "We need to be better at that."
Laviolette is sure of one thing for the postseason. Well, at least for Game 1: His goalie. He named rookie Sergei Bobrovsky the postseason starter this week ahead of Brian Boucher. The Flyers also bolstered their depth in net on Wednesday, when they recalled Michael Leighton, last year's postseason star, from the minor leagues.
Bobrovsky has 28 wins, a .917 save percentage and a 2.51 goals-against average. He's done it all except earn a shutout. Oddly enough, the Flyers have yet to shut out a single team this season.
The Flyers scored only six goals on this skid, but still have plenty of firepower. Jeff Carter leads with 36 goals and Briere has 32. Six other players have at least 20.
The biggest spark for a deep postseason run might end up being Holmgren's speech. The reality is, though, it will take more than words for the Flyers to win a championship.
"I think it needed to be done. But, at the same time, it is time to stop talking and start acting it out on the ice," Briere said. "There were lots of little things that needed to be said. That's step one. Step two is to finish it strong. And step three will be to start the playoffs."
By Donald Lambro
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