Players talk about must-win games all the time. Usually it’s just that, though. Talk.
For the Flyers, trailing the Rangers by three points and the Devils by four for the final two playoff spots, they know their upcoming home-and-home showdown with the reigning Eastern Conference champions, really could decide their fate.
"You win both games and you tied with them, and you have a good chance to continue to battle for the playoffs,’’ said goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, who likely won’t be opposed by injured Martin Brodeur (back) Wednesday in Newark. "You lose both games, you done. You'd be eight points behind, with not many games to catch up. It would be very, very difficult.’’
This will be the third — and final — trek up the Turnpike for Peter Laviolette’s team. They'll host New Jersey Friday, then again April 18. They’ve lost the first two, which is part of the reason they’re in this predicament in the first place. Going into Wednesday's game, the gap was three points behind the surging Rangers who went 4-0 last week and still hold three games in hand.
That’s what makes beating the Devils so crucial, as the team that’s played more games than anyone begins a stretch of just three games in 13 days.
"The focus can be a little more pointed this week,’’ conceded Laviolette, hoping to build off Sunday’s 3-2 win over Buffalo. "That urgency should be there. There aren’t any excuses and there will be no excuses if we don’t respond. They’re probably looking at it the same way, which lends itself to a great hockey game."
Since beating the Flyers, 5-3, on Feb. 15 the Devils have gone just 3-7-2. But they are 6-0 vs. Philadelphia since dropping Game 1 of their second round series last May, though Brodeur — rather than Johan Hedberg — was between the pipes each time.
No matter who is in goal for the Devils, the Flyers know what’s at stake.
"You do the math, it’s a huge couple games for us,’’ said Scott Hartnell.