Flirting with Collapse, Flyers Determined to Put Finishing Touches on Playoff Push
After a month of February where the Flyers picked up 10 wins and 22 points in the standings with a 10-1-2 record, the Flyers are just 1-5-1 in their first seven games in March, gaining just three points in the process.
That has the rest of the playoff teams in the Eastern Conference hot on the Flyers heels as the regular season winds down.
The Flyers find themselves caught in the middle of the pack again. They are just four points off the Metropolitan Division lead with games against Washington and Pittsburgh left on the schedule. They are also just two points up on the final wildcard team and six points up on the first team out of the playoffs.
The Flyers are certainly flirting with an epic collapse, from comfortably in the playoffs to fighting for their playoff lives every night. With 12 games to go, what will it take to lock down a playoff spot?
“Everything is in our hands: the schedule, the points, everything,” Jake Voracek said. “We have to find a way to get some points out of the games. It’s going to be interesting and I’m pretty excited about it.”
How many points? Voracek said 92 points was the mark the Flyers need to lock down a playoff spot.
He isn’t that far off. While it’s impossible to put a true number on what will seal a playoff spot, the Flyers do control how quickly they lock up a spot or if they do at all for that matter.
The Flyers sit at 81 points in the standings, which gives them a 91.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to SportsClubStats.com. If the Flyers finish the season with 92 points, at minimum, they have an 87 percent chance of making the playoffs. If the Flyers can get to 92 and find a way to win one more game, reaching 94 points would make them a virtual lock at 98.2 percent.
What is alarming is the path the Flyers are taking to get there.
It has been an up-and-down season to say the least. The Flyers opened the season with a good enough start to gain better than 64 percent odds to make the playoffs. On Nov. 10, one day after beating Chicago, their playoff chances were at 68.53 percent.
Then the losing streak happened. Ten straight losses took the Flyers chances from respectable to laughable in less than a month. After the last loss on the 10-game losing streak to Boston on Dec. 2, the Flyers chances of making the playoffs were at 9.41 percent.
Somehow, the Flyers defied the odds in the next three months. They consistently started winning. By the start of 2018, they were up to a 36.62 percent chance. By the All-Star break, an 8-2-0 January record had them at a 73.14 percent chance of making the playoffs. Then they rolled through February to vault their playoff odds to the cusp of clinching, a whopping 99.41 percent chance of making the playoffs on Feb. 28.
Since then, the Flyers have lost six of seven games in March, getting just three points in the standings. Their playoff chances haven’t dropped dramatically -- just eight percent -- and it would still take a lot for the Flyers to completely fall out of the picture.
Of the teams outside the playoff picture at the moment, only Florida has the Flyers truly in their sights. Florida is six points back of the Flyers with three games in hand. It’s another four points back to the next team out of the playoffs, the Carolina Hurricanes, and with just 12 games remaining in their season, just like the Flyers, it will be hard to see them making up the deficit.
So this is basically a four-team race for three playoff spots. For the Flyers to be the one team out, it would still take an epic collapse.
That being said, there is nothing satisfying about the road the Flyers are taking to the playoffs. Two seasons ago, it was one thing to be fighting along the playoff line all season and end up on the right end, even if it meant a playoff series with the top-seeded Capitals. This season, there was the feeling of greater potential, especially after a three-month stretch and dominant February brought a division title into play.
How quickly a couple of weeks have changed things. The Flyers bid for a division title isn’t over when you look at the standings, but their performances against the likes of Pittsburgh, Boston, Tampa and Vegas suggest the Flyers just don’t have the depth and skill to compete with these teams. It is simply too much to ask this team, in its current state, to be that kind of contender just yet.
But the Flyers should have built up enough of a margin to make the playoffs as the third-seed in the Metro, and that’s what is in danger as early as Thursday night, when the Flyers face the Columbus Blue Jackets with the winner determining who falls into third place in the division.
“It’s definitely our biggest game of the season. We know that, but sometimes you just can’t overthink it,” Claude Giroux said. “You just have to go out there and play the game. If you don’t enjoy it, you’re not going to play your best. So just go out there and enjoy the game. They’re rolling right now, they’re playing some good hockey and they’ve got momentum. It’s important for us to get a good start and get our fans on our side.” - Giroux biggest game of the season.
Giroux is right in principle. Every game is big. The next game in line is big. Thursday, it’s Columbus and it’s the biggest game of the season. As soon as it’s over, Carolina becomes the biggest game of the season.
The last lost on Monday to Vegas suggested that the frustration had boiled over. Each player’s remarks following the game were brutally honest. These are self-inflicted wounds costing the team points, costing the team a better playoff position, possibly costing the team a division title.
The signs are there that the end of that stretch is near. The Flyers deserved a better fate in Boston. They managed to get a win in a tight game against Winnipeg. One late-game mistake to Vegas essentially robbed the Flyers of at least one more point, if not two.
For as close as the Flyers were to anywhere between two and four more points in the standings, the way they lost their last two games has become a tired thing to this team. They hold the keys, they are in the driver’s seat still. And they know that.
It comes down to execution and finishing, and the Flyers have to start to find a way. If they can, everything is back in play in the final days of the regular season.
Kevin Durso is Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.