Flyers still digging out of early hole

The Flyers' Claude Giroux celebrates his goal with teammates Matt Read, Jakub Voracek and Luke Schenn during the second period. (Seth Wenig/AP)

NEW YORK: After an awful start, the Flyers have steadied themselves. They have won three of their last four games and have inched to eighth in the Eastern Conference heading into Tuesday’s game in New York against the Rangers.

But they have played more games than most teams in the conference, and they realize that, because of their 2-6 start, there is little margin for error.

Tuesday is Game No. 24, the halfway point in the shortened season.

“We’ve had our ups and downs, with injuries, with the schedule and back- to-back games, and having somewhat of a new group,” left winger Scott Hartnell said after Tuesday’s morning skate at Madison Square Garden. “I’d say all in all, we’re not overly excited where we are, but we’re in the playoff hunt and that’s what it’s all about right now.”

Hartnell, whose team is one point ahead of the slow-starting Rangers, said there is “accountability” in the locker room. “Guys aren’t on their own programs. We’re playing hard defensively, where in the beginning of the year, I think it was a lot of missed checks and a lot of soft plays. Guys are really bearing down.”

The Flyers will play four games in the next six days, facing the Rangers on Tuesday, Pittsburgh on Thursday, Boston on Saturday and Buffalo on Sunday.

Hartnell said there is a heightened sense of urgency this week.

“You look at the standings, they (the Rangers) have three games in hand and they’ll be one point ahead of us if they win this game and we don’t get a point, so to have a little separation of three points  _ with them having three games in hand _ is a lot better situation than the latter,” he said. “Every game will seem more and more important. I don’t know if the NHL planned it this whole way because of the lockout, but it seems like it’s been playoff hockey ever since Game 15 or Game 20, so it’s been awesome.”

Center Brad Richards, who is third on the Rangers with 13 points, will not play Tuesday after getting hit into the boards Sunday by Buffalo's Patrick Kaleta. The Rangers recalled Micheal (yes, he spells his name that way) Haley from the AHL to replace Richards.

Haley had 158 penalty minutes with Connecticut this year, and he was in seven fights when he played for the Islanders last season. He figures to say hello Tuesday night to Flyers' pest Zac Rinaldo.

And vice versa.

Also, keep an eye on the macthup between Wayne Simmonds and the Rangers' Stu Bickel.

Breakaways. The Flyers recalled Eric Wellwood from the Phantoms as an extra forward, but Mike Knuble will replace the suspended Harry Zolnierczyk in Tuesday’s lineup…..Ilya Bryzgalov will make his 22d start in the 24 games. Bryzglaov, who has allowed just one goal in each of his last two games, is 11-9-1 with a 2.61 GAA and .907 save percentage. …..The Rangers will counter with Henrik Lundqvist, who is 9-7-1 with a 2.28 GAA and .918 save percentage…Rick Nash leads the Rangers with 16 points and is plus-8….Jake Voracek has 25 points to lead the Flyers and is minus-2.....The Flyers and Rangers have split a pair of 2-1 decisions this season......Winger Matt Read, sidelined since Feb. 20 with a rib-cage injury, made the trip and took part in the morning skate.....The Flyers have lost five straight at MSG since 2011.

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.