The first two-plus months were sort of a dress rehearsal. Now comes the meaty part of the Flyers' schedule.
Entering Wednesday, the Flyers had 42 of their final 49 games against Eastern Conference opponents, increasing the magnitude of the matchups.
"The schedule's been weird. It feels like we're playing in the West," right winger Dale Weise said before the Flyers hosted Detroit on Wednesday. "We're OK playing those tight-checking, 2-1, 1-0 games, but I think we prefer playing the more high-paced game that Eastern teams play."
"It's the push toward the playoffs," left winger Michael Raffl said. "Most of them are four-point games now, so it's getting more and more important. It's getting more intense; you can feel it around here now."
Despite a recent 10-game losing streak, the Flyers had a chance to move within two points of a wild-card spot with a win Wednesday.
"I think we feel very fortunate – that six-game win streak put us in a good spot," Weise said. "When we were losing eight, nine, 10 in a row and looking at the playoff picture and you're seven points behind [it's tough], You get to the end of December and you're still seven points out, it's extremely hard to get into the playoffs."
The Flyers, who were actually nine points out of a playoff spot after their 10-game skid, took a 5-2-3 record against the East into Wednesday. They are 9-10-4 against teams from the physical Western Conference.
The players like all the East vs. East battles.
"Obviously it's something they tried to do with the schedule this year to try to make the games down the stretch a little more important," defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. "As we approach the second half, those games are going to be that much more important. We have to realize that and make sure we're prepared every night and ready to go."
"You get a chance to gain points and gain ground every night,"
Weise said about the loaded Eastern Conference schedule: "We're excited about it. … We've got to find a way to continue to string three, four, five wins together and get ourselves right back in."
Veteran left winger Jori Lehtera replaced rookie left winger Taylor Leier, who is day to day with an unspecified upper-body injury. … Goalie Michal Neuvirth is expected to be activated and go on the road trip and figures to play in one of the back-to-back games – Friday in Buffalo, or Saturday in Columbus – and give Brian Elliott a much-needed break. On Wednesday, Elliott played his ninth straight game – and 18th in the last 19. … Entering Wednesday, the Flyers had allowed two or fewer power plays in their last eight games, They had killed 12 of 13 (92.3 percent) during that stretch.