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Flyers seeking killer instinct

They didn't have it in Game 5 against the Capitals. Now, they know better.

In case anyone has forgotten, this would be a good time to remind everyone, especially the Flyers, that in the first round of the playoffs, Game 5 at Washington was a close-out affair.

The Flyers were manhandled and lost, 3-2. The win spurred the Capitals to tie the series and force a Game 7 overtime before the Flyers advanced.

Tonight in Montreal, the Flyers again can eliminate an opponent in Game 5. They lead the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Canadiens by three games to one.

"You think you have games in the hole, games on reserve you can use," winger Mike Knuble said yesterday. "That's the worst thing you can think. You get a team that suddenly feels threatened . . . and it becomes a dangerous team to face.

"We learned a great lesson against Washington. Now you have to apply it. If you don't apply it, you haven't learned anything."

He said the Flyers had learned that "players are proud" and "will do what they can" to extend their season.

The Flyers can also feel proud, in a way. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the playoffs were expanded to four rounds beginning with the 1979-80 season, only one other team has finished with the worst record in the NHL one year and reached the third round of the playoffs the next.

(Detroit was last overall in 1985-86 and reached the Western Conference finals in 1987 before losing to Edmonton in five games.)

But that's thinking ahead to a probable matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, who failed to sweep the New York Rangers and will play Game 5 tomorrow.

"This is far from over, especially after what happened to us in the first round," Flyers center Danny Briere said. "We can't afford to look ahead, especially with the top team in the East and the streaks they have had winning three, four and five in a row."

The Flyers came out timidly in Game 5 against the Capitals.

"I thought we played extremely hard in Games 6, 7 the last series, but Game 5, we went in there thinking we'll get out of the first period," Briere said. "And they came out swinging and we never recovered."

Winger Joffrey Lupul knows what was wrong.

"Game 5 the last time, we played like an unsure team," Lupul said. "We didn't know if they were going to roll over and die" or come out and play hard.

"We waited and eventually matched their intensity and style of play," he said. "By the time we did, we dug ourselves a hole. They came out hard. We should have been prepared for that."

The last thing the Flyers want to do is give Montreal hope. With an extra day between games, the Habs have had more time to ponder the long road back.

Flyers coach John Stevens said he would not look at the extra day that way and didn't think Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau would, either. Because both teams met after playing seven-game series, the extra day is welcome, Stevens said.

"The break was good for both teams," he said. "If you are winning, it gives you a chance to rest. And if you are in a situation of losing, it gives you an opportunity to rest and go over things and get your mind-set where it should be."

Yesterday, the Flyers had their first full practice since the regular season ended - when they had four days before the playoffs began. Most coaches do not practice during the playoffs because of the every-other-day grind.

Since Stevens gave the Flyers a day away from the rink on Thursday, he used yesterday to brush up on the ice, going over fundamentals and game situations.

"We've played so much hockey," Briere said. "You get to the point where you need that mental break, too."

Tonight will tell whether the extra day helped the Flyers' energy level.