NEWARK, N.J. - It was just a few days ago that Flyers coach John Stevens was talking about the back-and-forth way his team has been playing.

Win one, lose one wasn't what Stevens would have preferred, especially after starting the season hot. But it was certainly better than an extended losing streak, which other good teams, like New Jersey and Ottawa, have had.

Now, after last night's 4-2 loss to the Devils in the Prudential Center, the Flyers have lost three in a row, four of five, and are faced with stopping the skid from becoming extended.

"You come in here, you play the Devils, you feel like you had your chances and leave a goal short. It's the same, old story," Stevens said. "We have to find a way to win these hockey games. We've got to find ways to get the lead and keep the lead.

"We had a letdown in the second period and now we start chasing the game again. We have a big push and then fall short. It's not good enough."

After a scoreless first period, Mike Richards put the Flyers in the lead early in the second. But the Devils tied it and the momentum swung after the Flyers missed a key chance on an extended power play, during which New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur stopped Daniel Briere on a penalty shot.

The Devils scored twice more in the period, including one shorthanded, to end the period up 3-1.

"Just before the penalty shot, I had a two-on-one and shot it wide," Briere said. "Then the next shift I get that breakaway and get hauled down and get the penalty shot.

"We were still on the power play, we were buzzing. I can't remember what happened, but they go down and score shorthanded. Brodeur made three or four good saves and they go down, get one chance, and score. For me, that was when you realize that they had the momentum on their side."

Briere scored a power-play goal in the third, but it wasn't enough. Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki suffered his fourth loss of the season.

"We didn't quit, we kept battling, but this is not good enough," Briere said.

Not good enough is about where the Flyers have been for a while. They put together big minutes, but they are always followed by letdowns and they spend almost entire games playing from behind.

Saturday against Carolina, they chased the game and ended up losing, 6-5, in a shootout. Last night, after taking the lead, it was a stop-and-start effort, a lead, a letdown, and then chase the game in the third.

"Before, we were taking nights off completely," Briere said. "Now every game we're taking a period where we're just not there, we're not making the plays and are kind of in a daze. I don't know how to explain it.

"We have to find ways to be more consistent. It's like we lack focus for 60 minutes."

The first period was a lot of choppy hockey and no goals. New Jersey passed on two power-play chances, the Flyers passed on one and carried one into the start of the second.

Richards took advantage and scored the first goal of the game 40 seconds into the second, but the 1-0 lead lasted only 2 minutes, 9 seconds.

John Madden got a rebound off a shot from Karel Rachunek with Niittymaki out of position and tied the game, 1-1.

Then came Briere's missed penalty shot at 9:32 of the period, followed by Madden's shorthanded goal 40 seconds later.

Arron Ashham put the Devils up by two goals on a pass from Zack Parise and the Flyers seemed to be out of the game.

Briere changed that at 6:44 of the third, when Mike Knuble found him sneaking in from the wing and fed him from behind the net. Briere snapped a shot that beat Brodeur high and put the Flyers within one. But they could not get the tying goal and the Devils scored into an empty net to seal the game.

For the Flyers, who have a scheduled brief holiday break after this week's three games, time is running short on getting a grip on the first half of the season.

"We have to look at the big picture right away," said Scottie Upshall. "We're only as good as our last game, and obviously our last three games we haven't gotten the points we need to. As a group we're going to figure it out.

"We sat down a few days ago and we said over these last few games we were going to be our best going into the Christmas break. We have three games left, three important games, and we're going to have to get this train back on track and really focus in on getting six points in the next three games." *