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Practice Update: Flyers kick off crucial road trip

News, Notes & Quotes from practice as the Flyers enter important three game stretch

by PhiladelphiaFlyers.com @NHLFlyers / http://www.philadelphiaflyers.com

WHAT'S ON THE LINE

Six points are up for grabs this week. Additionally, six points separate three teams in the standings - meaning all three are fighting for their playoff lives.

That's what the week ahead looks like for the Flyers. The reality of it is that these games could hold big swings up or down the standings for the team.

"Every game on this road trip is a critical game, so we have to make sure that we take care of our business," said Flyers Head Coach Dave Hakstol before the team departed for Buffalo. 

Added Hakstol: "Tomorrow night we're playing a team that's two points behind us in the standings and is playing very well. It's a next challenge up, really. There's a lot of challenges ahead, but the next challenge up is the game in Buffalo tomorrow night." 

The Sabres will be playing their third game in a four-night span, losing the first two, while also dropping six of their last seven. Despite that, Buffalo has earned at least a point in three of their last four contests to move within striking distance of the second wild card spot, with 66 points, five behind the NY Islanders, who are currently at 71 points. 

The Flyers next opponent, Toronto, is nipping at the heels of that final wild card position. With 70 points, the Maple Leafs return home after a three-game California road trip where they gained just one out of six possible points and have now dropped their last five games, going 0-2-3.

From there, the Flyers third game on the trip will be unlike the first two as the Flyers visit Boston, who have won four of their last five games, and since relieving Claude Julien of his head coaching duties on Feb. 7, have gone 8-2-0.

The Bruins are currently fighting through a crowded Atlantic Division. At 74 points they are in third place, two points behind second place and home-ice advantage, and four points ahead of the Leafs, who are fighting for wild card position #2.

"It's a little like the same story as last year," said Flyers Captain Claude Giroux. "We were in the same situation and last year it felt like playoff games the last 15 games, so for us, we've been in the same situation before and we can't overlook it. We just have to go out there and play some hockey." 

"I think if we can put away the distraction of what other teams are doing and just focus on us it will help things," said Steve Mason, who has made the last three starts for the Flyers and hasn't given up more than two goals in his last three and in five of his last seven starts dating back to Jan. 25.

Video: Mason, Giroux and Simmonds on road trip

MORE ON MASE

Although a starting goaltender for Tuesday's game at Buffalo won't be named until after the morning skate, all eyes at the moment are pointed towards Steve Mason, who posted a 2-0-1 mark to go along with a 0.96 GAA and a .969 SV% in the last three games.

"He's been playing some good hockey," said Giroux. "The only reason we've been successful lately is because he's playing great, but even if it's Mase or Neuvy in the net we feel confident in our goalies. It's the time of year where we need everybody to play their best and Mase is doing that right now."

With the Flyers in a similar situation last year in March and April, Mason is certainly no stranger to performing his best at critical moments. In last year's late season run, Mason went 8-2-2 in March, posting a 1.88 GAA and .933 SV% in March of 2016.

"I think you take a look at the team as a whole and we're starting to play better hockey," said Mason. "We've gotten better results in the last three games, but we're still in a tough position with lots of work to be done. If we can get everybody feeling good about themselves, feeling good about their game on an individual basis, it's really going to help us."

FILP FITTING IN

Now that it's been a couple games, some time on the road and a couple practices, the newest Flyer, Valtteri Filppula, is easing into his new city and new role with the team.

"It's good always to get a few games in before you evaluate too much at this point," said Filppula after practice. "You have to be confident. If you don't believe in yourself, how is anybody else going to believe in you? So I'm just trying to play as well as I can, so we'll see what happens."

Talk about being thrown right in. In just two games, Filppula has been a part of two games played past regulation time - a 2-1 shootout win over the Panthers, and a 2-1 overtime loss to the Capitals. 

In his first outing, Filppula logged 15:12 of ice-time, seeing all but 34 seconds at even-strength and those 34 seconds on the penalty kill. In his second game, Filppula was asked to give significantly more, recording over 20 minutes of ice time at 20:42 which included over five minutes of time on the power-play.

"He's been excellent for us in a two-way role," said Hakstol. "He's been a guy that has made a lot of plays and I think there's a lot of subtleties to his game that maybe people don't recognize. Some of the offensive plays that he keeps alive just through some smart skilled plays."

Video: Coach Hakstol on road trip

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