DALLAS — The Flyers, needing wins to secure a playoff berth, will face the reeling Dallas Stars at a seemingly opportune time Tuesday night at the American Airlines Center.
Then again, the Flyers have played up or down to their competition's level all season. No game appears easy for them — not even a matchup against a Ken Hitchcock-coached Stars team that has lost eight straight (0-6-2) and is a long shot to gain a Western Conference playoff spot.
If the Flyers need a reminder of what can happen if you take a team lightly and don't play with enough urgency, all they have to do is look at last week's 5-4 shootout defeat in Detroit that ended the Red Wings' 10-game losing streak.
And Dallas is much better than Detroit.
Kari Lehtonen (2.55 goals-against average, .911 save percentage), the veteran Stars goalie who has replaced injured Ben Bishop, was having a strong season before allowing three goals or more in his last six appearances. The Stars have also faded on offense, scoring two goals or fewer in nine of their last 11 games despite having weapons such as Tyler Seguin (39 goals), Jamie Benn (28), and Alexander Radulov (26).
The Flyers have points in five consecutive games (3-0-2), and they played well in Sunday's hard-fought, 5-4 overtime loss in Pittsburgh against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Dallas is the second stop on the three-game trip, which will conclude Wednesday against Colorado.
"We've got two tough games coming up in tough buildings," right winger Jake Voracek said. "We've got to make sure we find a way to win."
At home, Dallas is 24-12-3, and Colorado is 26-10-2.
"They're big for us," defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said about the last two games on the critical trip. "We know who's behind us in the standings, and we know they're pretty hot teams."
He was referring to New Jersey and Florida.
"I think for us, it's just playing a complete 60 [minutes] and getting some points," Gostisbehere added.
Goalie Michal Neuvirth, who has been sidelined since Feb. 18 because of an undisclosed injury, might return in one of the next two games.
Coach Dave Hakstol, trying to conserve his team's energy down the stretch, gave the Flyers off Monday, so there were no hints as to whether Neuvirth would get the call against the Stars. After Sunday's loss in Pittsburgh, a game in which the Flyers fired a season-high 45 shots, Hakstol wouldn't speculate on whether Neuvirth would return Tuesday or Wednesday. But he didn't rule it out.
Petr Mrazek, acquired from Detroit on Feb. 19, was superb in his first three starts with the Flyers but has struggled since. He has just two wins in his last 10 appearances, and with the Flyers, he 5-5-2 with a 3.26 goals-against-average and .886 save percentage.
Neuvirth has had another injury-plagued season, but he has been solid (2.61 goals-against average, .915 save percentage) when healthy and the Flyers could use him.
Brian Elliott, who had core-muscle surgery Feb. 13, is also sidelined, and general manager Ron Hextall recently said he hopes Elliott can play in the final week of the regular season.
If Neuvirth isn't ready Tuesday, Hakstol will decide between Mrazek and rookie Alex Lyon (2.75 GAA, .905 save percentage), who has been steady in most of his 11 appearances but was pulled early in the second period Sunday after allowing three goals on 11 shots in Pittsburgh.
Hakstol said the goalie change had more to do with trying to jump-start the team than Lyon's play.
"The kid went in, and I don't think he let up a bad goal," he said.
One of the goals Lyon allowed seemed preventable, but the defense deserted him on the other two.
With six regular-season games left, the Flyers are in a virtual tie for third place with Columbus in the Metropolitan Division. But the Blue Jackets have the tie-breaker (goal-differential), so the Flyers are technically in the top wild-card spot. They are three points ahead of New Jersey, which has a game in hand and, at the moment, is the second wild-card team.
The top three teams in the division earn playoff berths, as do two Eastern Conference wild-card teams.
Entering Monday's game against the host New York Islanders, Florida is on a 12-3-1 run; the Panthers are six points behind the Flyers and have three games in hand.