VOORHEES, N.J. - From the general manager on down, the Philadelphia Flyers say enjoying the challenge is the key to their Sunday showdown with the New York Rangers, a game that could decide the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
"If you can't embrace this situation and give it your best, there's something wrong," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said Saturday. "I expect us to play a good game."
The game in Philadelphia will mark only the third time in Flyers history a playoff spot will be determined in the final game of the season - and the first time since 1972.
"I've never seen anything this close, anything like it, but we might as well embrace it, enjoy it," fourth-line winger Ian Laperriere said. "I know our fans are going to go crazy tomorrow. We need that and it's going to be a fun game to play."
The Flyers have played well of late at home and hold a 23-14-3 mark at the Wachovia Center, while the Rangers are 20-16-4 on the road. New York leads the season series, 3-2.
The two teams go into the game tied with 86 points.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said his team has to be more consistent than it was in Friday night's 4-3 loss at Madison Square Garden. The Flyers got off to a 1-0 lead just 40 seconds into the contest, then Philadelphia's Daniel Carcillo took a double-minor for high-sticking Brandon Prust and New York scored, taking the momentum away.
"They had the better of us for that first period," Laviolette said. "We need to be more powerful than them for longer stretches. It's a big game tomorrow, we'll need some big-time performances."
In Friday night's game, captain Mike Richards gave his strongest performance since the Olympic break. His message to his team: "Look forward to playing the game. Don't be tentative. Just make plays."
Richards had his first two-goal game since Feb. 1, but the rest of the Flyers had a difficult time getting scoring chances.
"I thought we may have been a little bit nervous," Richards said. "But we're coming to a place where we're comfortable. We play well there, so everybody should be confident."
Flyers leading goal-scorer Jeff Carter did not practice on Saturday after returning in Friday night's game at New York from an eight-game absence because of a broken bone in his foot. The Flyers said they gave Carter the day off to avoid aggravating the injury, but expect him to play Sunday.
Chris Pronger figures this game might come down to which team brings the most desire.
"It's about being determined and having that single-minded belief that you're going to end up on top," Pronger said. "It all boils down to one game and how we play. We're going to need to be an aggressive, up-tempo physical team. We need to make sure we're imposing our will on them."