Yesterday morning's Flyers practice, a day after the team posted its third straight win, was optional.

Continuing to compile points in their final six games, however, is not. Not if the team wants to continue to play after the regular season ends.

With their minisurge, the Flyers have vaulted into the seventh playoff spot, two points ahead of the Boston Bruins and two points behind the Rangers, whom they play tonight at Madison Square Garden. A Flyers win would tie both teams for the sixth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

"We've been playing a nice team game recently," coach John Stevens said. "We're trying to become a more consistent team. We have a tremendous amount of team speed. When we use that during the course of a game, we're at our best."

Many factors have contributed to the winning stretch, which came on the heels of a four-game losing streak.

The Flyers continue to have one of the NHL's most productive power plays, ranking second. In Sunday's 4-1 win over the Islanders, three goals came with a man advantage.

"I've been happy with our power play most of the season," Stevens said. "We've been one of the top two teams in the league for the better part of the season. We do well when we can get the puck to the top clearly, then get it to the net and attack. We've done a pretty good job of doing that all season.

"And now we're also doing a good job of getting goals at even strength. Ideally, a team would like to get three lines that can get you goals, especially going into the playoffs."

Another positive has been the play of linemates Vinny Prospal and Danny Briere. Since being joined on the same line 13 games ago, the two have been electric. Prospal has accumulated 10 points in his past 12 games. Briere notched six points in the three-game winning streak.

"Ever since we stuck them together, they've been able to find each other well," Stevens said.

Now Stevens' challenge is to find a level of consistency. Streaky play can be trying on a team. Not to mention its coach.

"Well, we'd like not to get into those sorts of streaks, especially the dubious ones," the coach said. "At this time of the year, we can't afford those kinds of stretches. We have to find streaks that are positive. When we give up a bad goal, or have a bad period or play a bad game, we can't hold on to that. We have to let it go. These final games are like playoff games for us. We can't afford not to have positive thoughts."

Flyers notes

After conferring with the captains,

John Stevens

decided to let some players get on the ice to work backup goalie

Antero Niittymaki

for a little bit, while others just rode the stationary bikes. The team will have a light skate this morning at the Garden . . .

Marty Biron

, who looked sharp in stopping 32 of 33 Islanders shots on Sunday, will be in goal tonight . . . Tonight will begin a four-game road streak for the Flyers, their third longest of the season. During an eight-game road trip early in the season, the Flyers went 3-5. The team went 5-1 in a six-game away-from-home stretch in midseason . . .

Danny Briere

was named the NHL's Third Star for his play last week, which included three goals and three assists in three victories. Washington's

Alex Ovechkin

was the first star, while Toronto goalie

Vesa Toskala

got the second star. *