FLYERS COACH Peter Laviolette had a very clear message for his team on Friday.

Get away.

Some players straggled to the Skate Zone in Voorhees on Friday anyway - be it for medical treatment, a light workout to maintain fitness, or out of sheer habit.

But on Friday, the 26th day of their journey toward a Stanley Cup, Laviolette wanted his team to rest. The fact is that his Flyers now trail in a playoff series for the first time since this marathon climb began on April 9.

Even on a day following an overtime loss, when the Flyers should finally begin to smell themselves to get a sense of desperation and the moment, Laviolette wasn't thinking that way with the day off.

"I think the physical [rest] is really important," Laviolette said in a conference call with reporters, after having a chance to soak in Thursday's Game 3 loss. "Just to play overtime games and the schedule, the way the playoffs set up - we have 2 days off, which is a break. This really allows guys to get away and still have a good practice [on Saturday]."

With the physical rest on Friday, designed to soothe sore muscles and dragging bodies, the mental refocusing and recuperation might just be an unintended benefit.

Game 4 is Sunday night back in Newark at the Prudential Center. The last four times the Flyers and Devils have met in the postseason, the team leading the series, 2-1, has gone on to win each time.

The Flyers' frustration with New Jersey is apparent. Adjustments game-to-game in a series are tough enough. Laviolette has tried to approach the Devils' relentless forecheck in a new way - and the Flyers made progress from period-to-period in Game 3, as witnessed by the momentum swings.

But the Flyers' biggest physical adjustment, from a playoff aberration against Pittsburgh to real playoff-style hockey against New Jersey, is the one they have struggled with the most.

The Flyers went from freewheeling through the neutral zone against Pittsburgh to barely freeing themselves from their own zone against the Devils.

"They're completely different series right now," Laviolette said. "The real estate is hard to come by. The scoring chances are not as significant. The speed up and down the ice is not as significant. It's more zone time and battling as opposed to rushes up and down the ice.

"They're playing a very tight checking game. I think it's a completely different look and feel than the first series."

There is also a mental break the Flyers have not yet accounted for, which may end up being bigger than X and O diagrams or style. The Flyers ousted the odds-on Stanley Cup favorite. Now, they're facing a presumed inferior opponent, who could quickly have the new Eastern Conference favorite on the ropes.

It was not a surprise to the Flyers' coach.

"They're not a team that's a Cinderella story," Laviolette said. "We split [the season series], the records were basically the same. They're a team that's had success all year. They're a top-10 team in the league. I don't think it's anything that we didn't expect."

Danny Briere hinted on Thursday night that the Flyers' heads might have gotten a little too big. Somehow, a second-round opponent is a surprise contender.

"I don't think we thought we were going to win four straight," Scott Hartnell said Friday. "But definitely they've played a lot stronger and a lot harder than me personally would have thought. I think in the last two games, they've outhustled us. They've won the majority of the battles."

To say that Game 4 will be the Flyers' most important of the season would not be an understatement. Lose and the Flyers are on the brink. Get it together, pull out a win and the Flyers are even, with two out of the final three games to play in South Philadelphia.

The adage is true: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. Up until now, that light hasn't gone on yet in the Flyers' minds. That's why Friday's rest was so important, to give the Flyers a chance to re-evaluate and recognize that their triumphs so far could mean so little so soon.

"It's not so much an adjustment as it is just competitiveness and getting a little quicker and more competitive," Laviolette said. "I think there is disappointment [after Game 3]. More than anything, it was addressed."

Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com, Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers. Read his blog, Frequent Flyers, at www.philly.com/frequentflyers.