-- No offense to the Thrashers, Maple Leafs, Oilers and Panthers, but the Philadelphia Flyers
players admit there's a different mindset going into Tuesday's visit by the Washington Capitals
(7:30 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN2).
For the first time in a month, the Flyers will play consecutive games against teams in their respective conference's top eight.
It's a big change from their previous 11 games, when they faced teams in playoff spots just twice; however, they went 5-4-2 in that stretch, and played some of their worst hockey of the season.
"When we struggled, I don't know if it was lack of effort or lack of focus," defenseman Braydon Coburn
told NHL.com. "I don't think it was lack of effort. I know guys were busting their humps. I think it was lack of execution and focus."
If there's anything that can sharpen a team's focus, it's playing the teams closest to you in the standings. The Flyers enter Tuesday's game with a two-point lead on the Capitals for the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Regardless of the result the Flyers will go to sleep Tuesday still atop the standings, but if they lose in regulation it only will be because of a tiebreaker.
And after Tuesday's game, there's a clash with the Pittsburgh Penguins
, the Flyers' nearest competitor in the Atlantic Division, on Thursday. The Flyers hold a four-point advantage on the Pens entering Tuesday's action.
"There's no question it's a big game," goaltender Brian Boucher
told NHL.com. "You hear people saying we've been playing teams below us in the standings and that it's hard to get up for them -- maybe there's a case of that, I don’t know.
"But if you can't get up for this game, you've got to give your head a shake. This is as big as its going to get for us right now, and it’s a big test."
The Caps enter with 10 wins in their last 11 games, and although they'll be without All-Star sniper Alex Ovechkin
, Washington boasts a strong, deep lineup, a solid defense and good goaltending.
"They've got a great team, great depth, a lot of talent up front," said Coburn, who has played more than 27 minutes in two straight games. "For me it doesn't change a thing."
The Flyers enter a confident bunch, having secured their spot in the playoffs Saturday with a 3-2 shootout win in Dallas. The players believe it was the kind of effort they need to see more of, and believe some of that was due to the fact that the Stars were sixth in the Western Conference.
After playing the Caps, three of the Flyers' next four games will be against playoff competition -- two meetings with the Penguins sandwiched around a game against the Northeast Division-leading Bruins.
"I don't think we were looking ahead, but obviously we're finally playing some big games now," forward Danny Briere
told NHL.com. "Dallas was a big game for us. … I liked that last game. I'm excited about tonight, Pittsburgh coming in Thursday. The next couple weeks, staring with the Dallas game, there's a lot of meaningful games. Maybe it'll make us play with a little more urgency, which is good coming down the stretch.
"It's been a long while since we had big games like we have tonight and Thursday. I think the guys will definitely be a little more excited for those two games compared to the games we have played for past month."
Around the rink: Sergei Bobrovsky
will start in goal for the Flyers on Tuesday. … Philadelphia will be without forward Jody Shelley
for about a month due to a broken orbital bone around his left eye. He was hit by a puck in practice Monday. Flyers GM Paul Holmgren
said Shelley will have surgery on Thursday. … Nick Boynton
will return to the lineup after missing the last two games as a healthy scratch. The team also recalled defenseman Danny Syvret
from AHL Adirondack.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @NHLAdamK