Fresh off a listless loss to lowly Ottawa, coach Peter Laviolette put the Flyers through three of their toughest practices of the season.

Drills. Speed skates. More drills. Mixed with a lot of work in the weight room.

Laviolette had planned to drill his team extra hard because it was the Flyers' last extended practice time until the end of the regular season. But he may have drilled them even harder because of their recent so-so play.

"I think it'll reenergize us for the last 20 games," goalie Brian Boucher said after Wednesday's grueling practice in Voorhees. "Part of it was conditioning for down the stretch, but also we weren't playing well and it was like a wake-up call.

"That bite in our game hasn't been there."

In their last six games (3-2-1), the Flyers have been outscored in the third period, 10-3, excluding empty-net goals.

"We need to rectify that," said Laviolette, whose team hosts Toronto on Thursday and will try to avoid consecutive losses for the first time since late December. "The third period needs to be our strongest period."

The tough practices over the last three days may help.

"We focused on getting better from a conditioning standpoint this week, so hopefully that will address that and we'll be better in third periods," defenseman Matt Carle said. "You don't like going through it, but you know you need it."

Veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell noted that because of a lot of traveling and late-night eating, "you don't get to work out as much," which is why the last three practices were necessary.

Said Carle: "We're not a team that's preparing for the season to be done in the beginning of April. We're a team that's preparing to play until mid-June, so we still have a long way to go, and we kind of looked at this as the midway point of the season. This was a chance to focus on conditioning and getting stronger."

Toronto, 5-1-4 in its last 10 games after Wednesday's victory over the Penguins, is within striking range of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

"There's never an easy game in the NHL, and that's even more apparent late like this," O'Donnell said. "Teams are playing for something."

Especially with games on the line in the final 20 minutes.

Injury updates. Defenseman Chris Pronger (hand) and center Blair Betts (finger) are expected to return to the lineup Thursday. Winger James van Riemsdyk, who apparently has a groin injury, is doubtful, and Dan Carcillo who missed practice for the second straight day with an illness, are expected to be scratched.

Betts is still gaining strength in his lacerated left ring finger, and there's a chance Darroll Powe will take faceoffs on that line against Toronto.

Breakaways. The Flyers signed right winger Jason Akeson of the Ontario Hockey League's Kitchener Rangers and center Tyler Brown of the OHL's Plymouth Whalers to entry-level contracts that will begin at the start of the 2011-12 season. Akeson, 20, leads the OHL with 103 points (24 goals, 79 assists) and is plus-26. Brown, 21, has 54 points (24 goals, 30 assists). . . . Nik Zherdev practiced on a line with Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter. The previous day, he was on a line with Mike Richards and Kris Versteeg. . . . Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start against the Leafs.

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