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Flyers hope wake-up call puts slump in past

Chris Pronger will be watching from the press box Thursday night to see whether the Flyers respond to his message to play better. Len Redkoles/NHLI/Getty Images

TORONTO -- The Philadelphia Flyers have made their fans a little nervous, some even panicky, with a month to go before the NHL playoffs.

Their fears were somewhat justified Tuesday night when, after a 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers, veteran defenseman Chris Pronger unleashed a tirade directed at his team's play. Not good enough was his message. And that tells you that the Flyers have higher expectations than the average team when they could feel that unhappy after a win. Pronger had the long-term view in mind when he made those pointed comments.

"It is about the big picture," Pronger said after Thursday's morning skate at the Air Canada Centre. "As each game goes by here, we get closer and closer to the start of the playoffs. We got to understand that we have lofty expectations; we had one goal when the season started and that goal hasn't changed. We got to make sure we're playing to the best of our abilities come the opening night of the playoffs."

Pronger won't play Thursday night when the Flyers face the Maple Leafs, as the team announced he's day-to-day with an upper-body injury. It'll give him a unique vantage point from the press box to see whether his team is playing its way out of a recent slump that saw the first-place Flyers lose four in a row.

"We're not happy to be playing this way," Flyers goalie Brian Boucher told ESPN.com on Thursday. "You don't want to lose games consecutively, and when you lose four in a row, obviously people get upset, and as players, we're not happy about it, either. It's just one of those things; it's a long season with ups and downs. I think the main thing is that we snap out of it in time before the playoffs. And I think we're working towards that."

And here's the thing. We addressed the Flyers' slump earlier this week in our Rant Answers blog by explaining the team's recent malaise as pure boredom. To wit, the Flyers entered the month of March fully in charge of the conference and just wanted to start the playoffs right then and there. Another month in the regular season? Boo. Enter the dog days of the NHL season. Suddenly the foot comes off the gas pedal, even if it's only subconsciously.

"Well, you're right," Flyers forward Daniel Briere told me Thursday morning. "On top of it, too, the parity between the top team and the bottom team is not much. So if you lose that edge, it doesn't matter who you play. There's so many teams at this point of the season jockeying for position, jockeying for a playoff spot, you're playing teams that are playing survival hockey. The gap between teams is not big enough that if you're not playing with an edge, you're not playing with the same intensity, it doesn't take much. I think that's why you see a lot of teams fall in that trap. At the same time, I'm glad it happened with more than a month to go before the playoffs rather than the week before."

Now that comfort level is gone. Washington, Boston and Pittsburgh are breathing down the Flyers' neck for the top seed in the East. The Flyers have been jolted out of their boredom. The motivation is back.

"The wake-up call is step one, step two is acknowledging it, and step three is taking measures to reverse that," Briere said. "So for us, now we're up to step three. Now it's for us to make those changes."

Part of that process has been lots of frank talk between teammates.

"There's been a lot of meetings lately," Briere said, smiling.

Things needed to be said. It's time to nip this in the bud.

"When you let it slip, you don't just flip the switch back on and say, 'OK, we're back.' It's a process," Briere said. "I think it's good we had it with some spare time before the playoffs so we can rectify the problem."

Sunday's 7-0 loss at Madison Square Garden was likely the tipping point.

"It was probably one of our worst games of the year," Pronger said. "A little adversity never hurt anybody. How we face it and deal with it is going to identify what our team is made of."