In a normal NHL season, 26 games would be just enough for most teams to find their rhythm and settle in for the long grind of the 82-game schedule.

With the lockout-shortened, 48-game 2013 schedule, however, as former Yankee and longtime Devils fan Yogi Berra once said, "It gets late early."

After playing the first game of a home-and-home series against the Philadelphia Flyers tonight at Prudential Center, the Devils will have only 21 games left to secure a playoff spot. Understanding that urgency is something coach Pete DeBoer and his assistants have been trying daily to impress upon the players.

Playing consecutive games against a heated division rival – the Devils and Flyers will meet again Friday night at Philadelphia – might help jump-start the necessary emotions.

"I think it's good," DeBoer said Tuesday of facing the Flyers the next two games. "The only hard part is I think your hockey clock it doesn't feel like the stretch run because you've only played [26] games because of the lockout. So, that's something that we're reminding our guys of on a daily basis.

"They're smart enough, the standings are posted, they know, but when you've played your whole life with your hockey clock telling you have 50 or 60 games before you hit the final sprint and now you're [26] games in, that's a little bit different."