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Flyers' playoff hunt intensifies

With two-plus months left in the regular season, the battle for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot seems destined to go down to the final week.

With two-plus months left in the regular season, the battle for the Eastern Conference's final wild-card spot seems destined to go down to the final week.

Let the scramble begin.

Entering Tuesday, the nine teams competing for the last wild-card spot - including the Flyers - were separated by just five points. And most of the teams chasing the Flyers had games in hand, meaning the gap has the potential be even closer.

That makes the Flyers' final 34 games, starting with Wednesday's matchup against the high-scoring New York Rangers (31-16-1) at Madison Square Garden, that much more important.

"It's definitely close, but there's a lot of hockey that still has to be played," said defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere after Tuesday's practice in Voorhees. "Before we start watching the standings, I think we're just going to take care of ourselves and worry about us."

The Flyers (23-19-6) are 0-2 against the Rangers this season, dropping 3-2 and 5-2 home decisions. The Flyers faced 3-0 deficits in both of those losses.

"They're a good team at home. We know that," said Claude Giroux, whose overtime goal lifted the Flyers to a 3-2 comeback win over the Islanders in Brooklyn on Sunday. "Maybe we didn't have the success we wanted in the past there, but we plan on changing that."

The Flyers have lost 11 of their last 12 regular-season games at the Garden. They did post a 3-0 win there last season as Wayne Simmonds had a pair of goals, and Steve Mason collected the shutout.

Falling behind has become a familiar theme with the Orange and Black. They have allowed the first goal in 10 of the last 11 games.

"Playing with the lead is huge. . . . For us, starting games behind the eight ball isn't easy for anybody, including goaltenders," Mason said. "From a team mindset, we definitely want to strike first and have a good start."

Sunday's victory was just the Flyers' fourth in their last 16 games, and it pushed them back into a wild-card spot.

"I think we were searching for a big win, and hopefully that was a win to get us over the hump," Giroux said.

"I felt like we won the Stanley Cup after we scored that overtime goal," right winger Jake Voracek said. "That's how happy we were. It was a lot of relief, and now we just have to keep going."

Last season, the Flyers finished on a 26-12-7 run to climb into the playoffs.

"With this group, we always like our challenges," Giroux said. "You look at last year and what we were able to do at the end of the season. We got the whole team together on the same page, and we plan on doing the same thing."

Coach Dave Hakstol liked Tuesday's practice.

"Guys were moving. There was a lot of chatter and communication on the ice, and the execution was pretty good," he said.


Mason is expected to make his third start this season against the Rangers. He is 0-2 with a 3.58 goals-against average and .860 save percentage against the Blueshirts. . . . The Flyers have 52 points in 48 games, the same total they had at this point a year ago. . . . The Flyers' power play is 0 for 14 in the last three games, though they did score against the Islanders just as a man-advantage expired. . . . The Rangers entered Tuesday second in the NHL, averaging 3.44 goals per game. . . . Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist has three straight impressive wins but has struggled for most of the season (2.75 GAA, .906 save percentage). . . . The Flyers host Toronto on Thursday, finishing their 13th set of games on back-to-back nights.