UNIONDALE, N.Y. - To listen to Flyers center Daniel Briere, the whole thing was his fault.

"I take credit for that first [Islanders] goal," Briere said. "I was in the pack and I should have done a better job and I lost the puck and [New York's Trent Hunter] was able to put a stick on it. I have to take responsibility for that."

If that had been the only goal and this were the only loss in the last four games, that thought might have meant something.

But as bad as any one player can feel about the Flyers' 4-3 loss last night in Nassau Coliseum, this is not about one goal, one player, or even one game.

This is about a pattern that is beginning to re-emerge and threatens to wipe away all the ground the Flyers had made up from Christmas to the All-Star break, when they went 14-3-1. And it's a pattern that looks a lot like the funk the Flyers were in when they lost six straight before Christmas. Their current losing streak is at four.

Hunter scored a goal and set up two others as the Islanders snapped a seven-game losing streak and beat the Flyers for the first time in four meetings this season. The Flyers fell behind early, turned the puck over often and turned their game up only when they were too far behind, getting to within one in the last minute on a power-play goal by Joffrey Lupul.

The Flyers have dropped from second in the Eastern Conference to sixth overall and third in the Atlantic Division. They are not in danger of missing the playoffs at this moment, but in a conference and division as tight as theirs, that could only be a matter of time if they do not find themselves - and quickly.

"Coming out of the All-Star break, we knew that the only thing we had done was given ourselves a chance to compete for a playoff spot down the stretch," coach John Stevens said.

"There are no easy games on the schedule, and while we were happy with where we were in the standings, there's no breathing room to relax and think we can lose a few games like we have and still keep ground on teams around you.

"Everyone is in striking distance of each other and if we don't take care of things in our own backyard, it's not going to matter what everyone else does. So it's up to us now to win some hockey games."

And it's not as if the Flyers don't know what is happening. They played poorly in losses to the New York Rangers and Washington and then talked about it before going to Pittsburgh, where they lost again.

"Before the Pittsburgh game we met and said, 'We've played two average games, let's get back on track,' " Briere said. "We were close, but not good enough. Then same thing tonight we talked about it, we had a long meeting [Monday] to talk about it, and it's frustrating."

"It's so small, the difference between winning and losing. We found ways to win all those tight games and now we're finding ways to lose them."

Playing soft and turning pucks over at the worst times have plagued the Flyers over the previous three games and it got them again last night. A soft pass attempt up the wall into the neutral zone ended up in the back of the net.

Once the Islanders had the puck, they went to the net and outbattled the defenders in front until Hunter was able to snap the puck home for a 1-0 lead in the first period. Briere tied the game on the Flyers' third power play early in the second period when he got to a Mike Knuble rebound and scored.

But the Islanders took the lead right back. Jeff Tambellini used Flyers defenseman Jason Smith as a screen and found the far corner of the net past Flyers goalie Antero Niittymaki to make it 2-1. The Islanders made it 3-1 when Sean Bergenheim chased down a pass through center ice, beat Kimmo Timonen to the net and then beat Niittymaki as he was falling.

The Flyers' R.J. Umberger, coming off a two-goal game in Pittsburgh, skated wide, beat two defenders and then came back into the slot for a pass to Scott Hartnell, who banged it past Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro to cut the lead to 3-2.

The Flyers had their chances in the third period and carried much of the play until Ruslan Fedotenko popped in the Islanders' fourth goal with 5 minutes, 58 seconds left.

Lupul then cut the lead back to one on a slap shot that beat DiPietro cleanly with 1 minute to play. But it wasn't enough.

"Before Christmas, it seemed like we were carrying most of the game," center Mike Richards said. "Right now it seems like we're kind of falling off and waiting for other people to do something.

"Then we get some urgency at the end and try to come back with some false pride. We have to learn to play for a full 60 minutes. It's kind of comparable to what was happening before Christmas, but it seems like then we were playing a little bit better." *