While playing in Friday's much-hyped Winter Classic at Fenway Park is undoubtedly on their minds, the Flyers are focused on tonight's more pivotal matchup against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.

"This is a huge game. They came into our building last week and beat us, so we owe these guys," Danny Briere said after yesterday's practice in Voorhees. "This is a team we're battling for [a playoff spot]. Every point is getting more and more crucial as the season goes on."

Entering last night, the Flyers were 12th in the Eastern Conference with 38 points - two points behind the Rangers, who were tied for the No. 8 spot with Atlanta. The top eight teams earn playoff berths.

"After this game," Briere said, "we'll start dealing with all the excitement and everything surrounding Boston."

"I think you have to realize we're not playing the Stanley Cup Finals in Boston," defenseman Chris Pronger said. "We have to worry about the first game, and that's New York. Yeah, it's been a hyped game [in Boston], but it's one of 82. We're playing a little better, and we've got to be focused and prepared for the Rangers and not worried about the Bruins on the first."

The Flyers will take a three-game winning streak into tonight.

"We still believe that whatever happened in the early part of December was not normal for our team," said Briere, whose team lost 14 of 17 before their current streak. "It shouldn't have gotten to this point, but it is what it is, and we have to deal with it. I like the way we've played the last three games. It's very positive, but we know we still have lots of work in front of us."

Michael Leighton will be in the nets tonight, making his fourth straight start. Brian Boucher had an injection to numb his lacerated right ring finger before yesterday's practice and said that he didn't feel any pain and that he could play tonight.

But coach Peter Laviolette wants to stay with the hot hand. Leighton has won three straight, during which he has a 1.96 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage.

"Right now, Michael Leighton deserves to start," Laviolette said.

Asked if Boucher could start the Winter Classic without having a one-game tune-up, Laviolette said: "I don't really want anybody thinking about the Winter Classic. We're playing the Rangers now. . . . If you look at where the Rangers are and where we're at, we need the win. End of story."

Briere said the winning streak has created confidence - a missing ingredient during the team's struggles.

"We're making plays the last couple of games and playing a lot more relaxed," Briere said. "But at the same time, we're [playing] with the same kind of urgency. We have to keep doing that. With Peter's system, it's go, go, go, and you're always on the move. If we keep skating like we have in the last few games, we'll be in good shape."

Flyers Olympians. Two Flyers defensemen - Oskars Bartulis and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen - were named to their respective Olympic teams. Pronger is expected to be named to Canada's team today, meaning the Flyers should have three Olympic defensemen - and could have four if Matt Carle is chosen for the U.S. squad.

Bartulis was named to Latvia's team, and Tollefsen, despite being sidelined by a knee the last 16 days, was the only NHL player selected to represent Norway.

A first-time selection, Bartulis called it "a big honor" to be chosen.

Bartulis said he thought he had a 50-50 chance "because I didn't play that well in the World Championships, and the coach said we'll see what happens in the season - and I guess the season turned for me pretty good so far."

Tollefsen, also a first-time Olympian, said he would resume skating today and should be ready for the February Olympics. "It's always been a dream of mine," he said.

In addition to Pronger, Mike Richards is a strong Team Canada candidate. Jeff Carter and Simon Gagne are other possibilities. The U.S. team, which will be announced Friday, could include Carle, while the Finland squad is expected to include Kimmo Timonen and Mika Pyorala.