Time for the captain to step up

    The Flyers didn't deserve to win the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference. Not the way they played tonight in a 4-3 loss to the Rangers. And not the way they've played for the last six weeks.

   Tonight's loss left the Flyers and Penguins tied for the fourth spot _ which gets the home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs _ but Pittsburgh gets the No. 4 seed because of the first tie-breaker, most wins. The Flyers finish at No. 5.

   Both teams finished with 99 points, but the Pens had one more victory than the Flyers. (Remember that Feb. 21 game in which Marty Biron made a late blunder that gave Sidney Crosby a gift goal in a 5-4 Pens win? Well, in retrospect, that point helped give Pittsburgh home ice in the playoffs.)

     The Flyers, 2-2-2 against the Penguins this season, will begin the best-of-seven series Wednesday in Pittsburgh.

    Earlier this month, captain Mike Richards downplayed a 3-2 loss in Toronto, saying it was just one game and there wasn't a need to panic.

    Well, it's never time to panic, but there IS a time for urgency.

    And the Flyers haven't had it for the last six weeks, going 11-10-2 in that span.

    Oh, there have been spurts of impressive play _ including a 3-1 win in Pittsburgh on on March 22  and a 4-2 victory over New Jersey the next night.

    But other than that, the Flyers have been a mediocre team since late February.

    The soft-spoken captain needs to step up and light a fire. If not, a very good season could be over in one playoff round.

    That seemed unthinkable in mid-February. Back then, the Penguins were in 10th place in the East.. But the Pens changed coaches and finished on an 18-3-4 run. The streak, coupled with the home-ice advantage, makes the Penguins slight favorites in this intriguing playoff series.

    Can the Flyers win it?

    Absolutely. Compared to last year _ when the Flyers lost to the Pens in five games in the conference finals _ the Flyers have improved and the Penguins have taken a few steps back.

     It will come down to goaltending, special teams and who plays with the most desire.

    From here, it seems the Flyers lost some hungriness around the same time they lost Glen Metropolit and Ossi Vaananen on waivers. (Salary-cap reasons were behind the moves.) Metropolit and Vaananen weren't stars, but they were well-liked teammates and their departures seem to have altered the team's chemistry in a negative way.