By Peter Gleason

When you’re the best pro team in a sports-crazy town like Philly, expectations start to rise.

Fresh off a pivotal win over a division rival, the Flyers need to avoid a slip up when they continue their late-season playoff push tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Twelfth in the Eastern Conference on Feb. 24, Philly (35-24-12) has gone 9-2-1 since to close within a point of eighth-place Detroit with a game in hand. The Flyers are now just three back of the New York Islanders for the first wild card after last night’s 4-1 win in Brooklyn that opened a critical four-game trip.

Balanced scoring and solid goaltending have been constants during the surge, and the trend continued Monday. Four different players had goals and Steve Mason recorded 23 saves to improve to 5-1-1 with a 1.98 goals-against average in seven March starts.

“The guys are playing hard and they’re playing together,” coach Dave Hakstol told the NHL’s official website. “We’ve known all along that we’ve got a tough battle to get above the line in the playoff race. The guys are having fun and they’re working hard right now. There’s a goal in mind, but I think every day it’s more critical to focus on the task at hand, to show up, to play hard, and have fun while you’re doing it.”

Philly is averaging 3.42 goals per game during its 12-game run, with eight players scoring three or more over that span.

The Flyers’ next challenge will be maintaining their focus against a Columbus team it routed 6-0 in Philadelphia on March 5 but hasn’t beaten on the road since Dec. 13. 2005. The Blue Jackets have won seven straight meetings at Nationwide Arena, pulling out a 3-2 shootout victory on Dec. 19.

“We have to move on to (Tuesday) and bring the same effort,” center Nick Cousins said.

While the Flyers’ offense has been consistently productive for much of its rise, Columbus (29-35-8) has been feast or famine in that department throughout the season’s second half. The Blue Jackets have scored four or more goals in each of their last eight wins and two or less in all of their past 13 losses.

After mustering three goals during a three-game skid from March 11-17, the Jackets broke out in Saturday’s 6-3 home victory over New Jersey before struggling again in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the Devils.

“Neither team gave the other too much,” said coach John Tortorella. “I don’t think we played badly. We just couldn’t score.”

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