Desperate times call for desperate measures.

For the Flyers, this next stretch of five games doesn't get any more desperate.

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The math is simple. Since the NHL lockout in 2004-05, no Eastern Conference team has made the playoffs with fewer than 40 wins, and no Eastern Conference team has made the playoffs with more than 33 losses.

Heading into tonight's home game with the Florida Panthers, beginning the Flyers' third consecutive week with four games on the slate, the Flyers have 48 games remaining in the regular season. Sitting at 15-17-2, they need to win at least 25 games.

With 14 teams realistically vying for eight spots, it isn't far-fetched to say that 40 wins won't get the job done. Two teams with 41 wins last season (Florida and Buffalo) did not make the playoffs.

These next five games, against four teams that are in the same boat (Florida, Tampa Bay, New York Islanders, New York Rangers) and against the worst team in the conference (Carolina), are all must-have points.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren wasn't ready to pull the trigger on a trade before the NHL's holiday roster freeze set in on Friday night at midnight. The no-trade freeze doesn't expire until Dec. 27 at midnight, which tells us he is giving his current lineup a vote of confidence for this important stretch.

Holmgren was desperate on Dec. 4, just 17 days ago, when he impetuously fired coach John Stevens after losing six games in 17 days. Where was the desperation this week? The Flyers have won just three times in 16 games.

This team needs a shakeup. The players are waiting for it. With that vote of confidence, the Flyers had as much jump on Saturday - against a team with an almost identical record in the Rangers - as a car battery left in the snow.

Knowing that all of their buddies were still in the lineup, the Flyers should have played to prove Holmgren right.

"I would have thought we would've ripped the hinges off the gate tonight to get out on the ice," coach Peter Laviolette said after Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Rangers. "I can't think of one reason why we would come out flat, but we did."

Instead, not making a move allows these players to rest comfortably over the holidays.

We know who isn't leaving: Simon Gagne, Danny Briere, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Chris Pronger. All of those players have some sort of no-trade or no-movement clause in their contracts.

Laviolette isn't going anywhere, either. The Flyers signed him to a 3-year contract when he was hired.

Holmgren didn't do this crop any favors by bringing in a coach with a risky offensive system that often leads to neutral-zone breakdowns. The Flyers are just 2-6-1 under the drill sergeant-like Laviolette. Odd-man rushes come at the Flyers without fail. Whether the players like it or not, he has the right personality for the laid-back bunch - but not the right plan.

Laviolette spoke this week about how "it didn't happen right away in Carolina" when he took over the Hurricanes before the NHL lockout.

"We played like we couldn't be beat down the stretch," Laviolette said of that first season.

Carolina still finished 15 points out of a playoff spot. Laviolette is urging patience. This team needed a system and style that could convert to wins now, not next season. With such a talented lineup, the Flyers can't just sacrifice a season because of a change in philosophy.

Laviolette seems to know what is at stake.

"This isn't really about me or the players," he said. "This is about making the playoffs. This is about the Philadelphia Flyers playing a brand of hockey that you can be proud of and I don't know how anyone could possibly be proud."

A 27-15-6 record over the next 48 games wouldn't have seemed like too much of a stretch for this proud franchise before Thanksgiving.

Instead, this team is far from the Stanley Cup contender it was picked to be in September. The first 18 games of the season (12-5-1) were a mirage. This team will scratch and crawl just to make the playoffs. And that's only if the players are desperate.

By the numbers

3: Number of wins for the Flyers in their last 16 games.

10: Number of goals the Flyers have scored in their last 10 losses.

4: Number of goals during those 10 losses that were scored on the power play, leaving six goals at even strength in those losses. Saturday was the Flyers' first day of the season outside the Top 5 in the NHL's power-play rankings.

3-13-0: The Flyers' record when opponents score first.

The week ahead

vs. Florida

Tonight, 7 o'clock

This is the third time the Flyers face the Panthers this season and the first time since Mike Richards TKOd David Booth at the blue line on Oct. 24. Booth, who was hospitalized after receiving stitches and a nasty concussion, has not played in a game since then, and only resumed light skating last week. The Miami Herald reported yesterday that Florida has recalled tough guys Mike Duco and Steve MacIntyre from Rochester (AHL) to beef up the lineup for tonight's rematch.

at Tampa Bay

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.

The Flyers and Lightning last met before Game 2 of the World Series in Philadelphia, way back when the Orange and Black still knew how to score goals. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the Lightning hasn't forgotten: They have four players with more points than the Flyers' leader, Mike Richards. Tampa stopped a six-game losing streak on Friday in St. Louis. Tampa finishes a six-game road trip on Long Island tonight.

at Carolina

Saturday, 7 o'clock

There isn't much of a Christmas break for the Flyers, who will travel to Raleigh, N.C., early on Saturday morning, a rare day-of-game flight. Carolina is bringing up the rear of the Eastern Conference. It enters this week a full eight points behind the Flyers, who are the next closest team in the standings. Team captain Rod Brind'Amour, 39, has played so poorly that he has been a healthy scratch in several games.

at New York Islanders

Sunday, 5 o'clock

The Islanders are the only team that the Flyers have played with any consistency this season. They have trumped the usual Atlantic Division cellar dwellers twice, most recently 6-2 on Dec. 8. The Flyers could use a belated Christmas gift of two points.