If the Philadelphia Flyers don't stop their losing streak soon, they could badly damage their chances of winning their division. Only in the Southeast Division would the Tampa Bay Lightning still even have a chance to win theirs.
The Flyers look to avoid a fifth straight defeat on Thursday when they host the Lightning, who are on a different kind of streak, having earned at least a point in four straight games.
This recent slide has dropped Philadelphia from first place in the Atlantic Division to third place behind New Jersey and division-leading Pittsburgh.
The four-game skid has included three 4-3 losses, including one to the New York Islanders on Tuesday as the Flyers were outshot 47-29.
"We were better the last two games, but we still need to win," Flyers forward Daniel Briere said. "We had a long meeting to talk about it. We're close, but close is not good enough."
The Flyers last lost five straight in mid-December, but they haven't lost five in a row in regulation since last season when they finished with the league's worst record. They had gone 14-3-1 in their previous 18 games before the current skid.
They've also been shorthanded recently, playing the last two games without forward Simon Gagne (concussion) and defenseman Braydon Coburn (buttock). Forward Scottie Upshall has missed the last three games with an ankle injury.
The Lightning (24-27-6) are looking as healthy as they have all season, going 3-0-1 in their last four and 7-3-1 in their last 11. They beat Montreal 3-2 on Tuesday as Vaclav Prospal tied the game late in the first period, then won it midway through the third with his 25th goal of the season.
Prospal had been unhappy about being moved off the first line and seeing his playing time decrease, but he was placed back on the top line during Tuesday's game.
"Let's just talk about the game," Prospal said. "A great two points for us. I'm just happy to be part of tonight."
He met with Lightning coach John Tortorella in the coach's office for nearly a half hour while still in full gear after the game, but neither Prospal nor Tortorella would directly address what was said.
"I'm not here to be the happy man, make everybody happy," Tortorella said. "I make calls as far as the game is concerned. Athletes that are mad can be good athletes. He played well, very well."
It was Prospal's first multigoal game since October, and it helped last-place Tampa Bay keep pace in a tightly packed Southeast Division. After Tuesday's action, all five teams in the division were within six points of each other.
The Lightning would have been at least 14 points back of first place in any other division.
Tampa Bay has won seven straight games in Philadelphia dating back to the 2002-03 season, but the Flyers won 4-2 in Tampa on Dec. 29 in the teams' most recent meeting.