Philadelphia, PA – Despite a disappointing 4-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Thursday night, the Flyers are not panicking as they head into the final three games of the regular season. After all, the team still has its fate in its own hands, and will clinch the third seed in the Eastern Conference if it wins out.
That will not be easy, as Philadelphia will host the New York Rangers on Saturday afternoon and travel back to New Jersey on Sunday. The team has yet to beat the Rangers at the Wachovia Center or win at the Meadowlands so far this season.
Now is the time to change that.
"The game we have [Saturday] is crucial for us. We have it in our hands right now," said Simon Gagne. "We still have the chance to start at home. It's time to take the lead right now."
In order to finish strong and excel in the playoffs, the Flyers know that the beginning of the game is of utmost importance. In the Flyers' last seven contests, the team that has tallied the game's first goal has gone on to win.
"The start last night was not there. It was there in Buffalo and you saw the difference," said Gagne, referring to the Flyers' 4-2 victory against the Sabres on April 7. "We dominated the game in Buffalo because of the start. The start of the game is very important for us, especially with the type of team we have.
"Sometimes if we have a slow start, we panic a little bit. A lot of bad plays happen after that. If you have a good start and everything is going well, you play more relaxed and make the right play."
Ken Hitchcock stressed after practice that no one should overreact to the team's loss on Thursday night. After all, the only team in the Eastern Conference that is playing consistently right now is New Jersey, according to the head coach.
"Everybody is having a heart-attack after one game. A week ago we were playing unbelievable," said Hitchcock.
"If you look at the eight teams in the conference, the one team that's streaking is New Jersey. Everybody else is on again, off again. Ottawa, Carolina, us, the Rangers. It's about finding some semblance of order. New Jersey found it. They didn't have it early in the year. They didn't have it after the Olympics, but they have it now. This is the right time to have it. We want to find it. We still have time to find it."
Philadelphia will apparently be getting a key player back into the lineup, as Peter Forsberg skated longer than his teammates on Friday and was optimistic that he would be able to return.
"I think so," said Forsberg when asked if he was playing. "It feels good and I hope I can crack the lineup."
The Flyers will be looking for their first home win against the Rangers this season, as they have lost the first three games of the season series at the Wachovia Center.
"They have great offensive players, plus they've been scoring a lot of power play goals," said Forsberg, whose last game was on April 4 at Madison Square Garden. "We need to make sure about those two areas. We can't give their first line too many opportunities and we can't take too many penalties."
FLYERS NOTES Robert Esche will start on Saturday, while Antero Niittymaki will be in net on Sunday in New Jersey. … Denis Gauthier will be back in the lineup Saturday after serving his two-game suspension. … On Friday, Philadelphia took its annual team photo at the Wachovia Center before practice.