Flyers Face Many Playoff Scenarios in Final 2 Games
The Flyers have just two games remaining in a maddening regular season that has seen some tremendous highs and some lows that go beyond frustration. Two games, one on Thursday and one on Saturday, will decide where this all goes -- playoffs or another long summer and offseason.
As the Flyers prepare to play in Game 81 against Carolina on Thursday night, there are a wave of scenarios the Flyers are facing as the playoffs draw closer.
Making the Playoffs
Before getting into where the Flyers could finish and who they would face in a first-round playoff series, they have to make it in first.
The clinching scenario entering Thursday remains the same. The Flyers need a combination of three points -- either gained themselves or lost by Florida -- to clinch a playoff spot.
So the Flyers still control their own destiny in that sense. If they can get three points in the final two games, they are in the playoffs no matter what Florida does. It is as simple as that.
But Florida showed that they won’t go quietly, getting a 2-1 win over Nashville on Tuesday night, albeit in controversial fashion. Regardless, it was two more points for them to keep their playoff hopes alive and was a win against one of the NHL’s teams. Even with a schedule that includes two more games against the Boston Bruins, the Panthers are not backing down.
That said, the Panthers are still in a spot where they need to approach the final three games as must-wins. For the Panthers to feel like they can make the playoffs, they need to win out or get some serious help from the Flyers. So the Flyers cannot look at two games against non-playoff teams lightly as they did in Brooklyn.
The Flyers remaining games are against Carolina and the New York Rangers, two teams out of the playoff picture. So while the Flyers floundered against the Islanders on Tuesday night and every other team in the running with them rose to the occasion, the Flyers have the easiest schedule of any team in the Eastern Conference here.
That is both a blessing and a curse. The Flyers will face two teams that have nothing left to play for but pride and jobs next season. Those games have so often gone as Tuesday’s did, where the effort isn’t there and the Flyers play down to the opponent.
The Flyers should not have a care in the world about who the opponent is on the other side in these last two games. They can drastically change their playoff position by taking care of business and watching what unfolds.
When the night ended, here was how the Eastern Conference standings looked:
The Flyers infuriating loss to the Islanders overshadowed what the rest of the standings said. By virtue of the loss and everyone else’s success, the Flyers fell back to the second wildcard, which would set them up to play the Atlantic Division winner in the first round -- either Boston or Tampa Bay.
At the same time, Pittsburgh, Columbus and New Jersey are all at 80 games played as well and all four teams are so close in the standings that it is not impossible for the Flyers to go from the second wildcard to second in the division.
That’s highly unlikely, but also don’t put them against the top seed in the East just yet. There’s still plenty of time and room for shuffling spots.
New Jersey is one point ahead of the Flyers and closes out the season with games against Toronto and Washington.
Columbus goes head-to-head with Pittsburgh on Thursday and closes out the season on Saturday against Nashville. Pittsburgh closes the season on Friday against Ottawa.
The first ideal for the Flyers is that Thursday’s Columbus-Pittsburgh game gets decided in regulation. Both teams are tied with 96 points, so from a standings point of view, it doesn’t matter who gets the edge. The only thing that matters there is potential playoff opponent -- since the Flyers could still finish second or third in the division and face one of those teams.
Passing New Jersey for the first wildcard is still very realistic. The Devils have been a very hot hockey team, going 10-3-1 since March 6, but also face two playoff teams in the East. Even though they hold the first wildcard spot by a point on the Flyers, they would need to win both games to lock up that spot or higher without having to watch the scoreboard. If they lose just one game in regulation, the Flyers have a chance to leapfrog over them.
Missing the Playoffs
Yes, there still remains the scenario that the Flyers could miss the playoffs. Even if the Flyers lose out, they could still make the playoffs pending Florida’s results. At that point, Florida would need to win two of the last three games on their schedule to make the playoffs.
Obviously, Florida’s margin for error is slim. If Florida were to get every game remaining to overtime, but lose, they would miss the playoffs no matter what the Flyers did.
Ultimately, Thursday’s game for the Flyers is a must-win to put the heat on Florida. At that point, Florida has one scenario where they make the playoffs and the Flyers don’t -- win out and have the Flyers lose the regular-season finale in regulation.
What the Flyers cannot afford is the first scenario in this -- losing both games remaining -- thus leaving their fate in Florida’s hands.
It is coming down to the wire and every game matters at this point. For the Flyers, they will be participating in two very meaningful games while watching eight very meaningful games from their Eastern Conference counterparts.
It will be an exciting and nerve-wracking ride to the finish.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.