So if the Flyers are to reach their goal of nailing down home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs, they will have to navigate an obstacle course littered with desperate teams.
"This time of the year, you start to get the feel of playoff games," Flyers goalie Brian Boucher said Wednesday. "That's the nature of the season. Teams that are desperate are going to play a style where they're going to be tight checking. They'll want to stay out of the penalty box, and they're going to be close games. I think we're going to see more of that from now on."
One reason the incentive to make the Stanley Cup playoffs is so powerful is that so little separates teams that make the postseason. The Flyers illustrated that last spring, when they elbowed their way into the playoffs with a shoot-out win over the Rangers on the final day of the regular season, then came within two wins of the Cup as a No. 7 seed.
The Hurricanes, who lost in overtime Tuesday to the suddenly emerging New Jersey Devils, are in the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Atlanta.
The Kings will be in a similar situation when they come to the Wells Fargo Center on Sunday.
"They're as dangerous as the next team and the one after that," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said of the Hurricanes, whom he coached to the championship in 2006. "They're all dangerous. Is L.A. right there on the bubble? Like I said, they're all dangerous. But we have to go out and take care of our business. I think it's important to worry about our game and not the opposition and where they're at. There's so much parity, there's not a lot of wiggle room anymore."
"In my opinion," winger Andreas Nodl said, "these are the most dangerous teams."
Boucher recalled the sense of desperation that gripped the Flyers when last season reached the home stretch, and the sense that they were in a playoff atmosphere before the playoffs began.
"We were kind of in that position last year, where in the last 30 games, every game was important," he said. "So we're going to get a lot of that."
Ice time. Chris Pronger is averaging 22 minutes, 16 seconds of ice time this season, down from the 25:55 he averaged during 2009-10. There are two reasons: injuries and more depth on defense.
Pronger, 36, missed training camp because of off-season knee surgery. He also missed five weeks with a broken foot before returning Jan. 20. Laviolette said the star defenseman is not far from playing at full tilt.
"I'd say he's probably getting close," Laviolette said. "He's skating hard in practice and he's hard-charging right now. It takes a while. He missed training camp, then came back and got his game going, then he broke his foot and he had to start over again. He's had a couple of setbacks, but he's done a pretty good job. He's been around a time or two, and he knows what to do to take care of himself."
Kimmo Timonen leads Flyers defensemen in ice time with an average of 22:22.
Loose pucks. Laviolette said he is pleased with Andreas Nodl's play even though the talented right winger has only nine goals. "He hasn't gotten the production he's probably looking for, or that we're looking for, because he's a skilled guy, and we know he can put the puck in the net," the coach said. "But his work ethic, his play in the hard areas has been very good. And usually offensive things change if you're doing the right things on the ice." . . . The Flyers are 6 for 23 on the power play in the last seven games for a healthy 26 percent. . . . The Flyers are 2-0 against Carolina.
Contact staff writer Ray Parrillo at 215-854-2743 or firstname.lastname@example.org.