Flyers Facing Long Odds, But Still a Path to Playoffs
The odds have been stacked against the Flyers for a while now. As recently as Jan. 8, the Flyers were the worst team in the NHL and there were more discussions about a lottery pick in the upcoming draft than there were playoffs.
The playoffs have been back in the conversation for a few weeks now thanks to a run of games that closed a deficit from 16 points to as little as five.
As the Flyers enter gameplay on Saturday night, they are seven points back of a wildcard spot -- both Carolina and Montreal are in at 79 points -- and five points back of Columbus, the first team outside the playoff picture.
Erasing a five-point deficit and at least one seven-point deficit is not favorable or likely, especially with just 15 games to play in the regular season, but for now, there is a path to do it.
First things first, before you can discuss the other teams in this picture, the Flyers have to focus on the task at hand, and it’s the same as it was for the last month and a half: just win. Of course, that isn’t always easy to do when you face several top teams multiple times in the final month of the season.
The Flyers will face the New York Islanders on Saturday night for the second time in a week and still have another game at home against the Islanders later in March. The Flyers lost to Washington on Wednesday and face them twice more in March. March also includes two meetings with Toronto and a game in Pittsburgh.
In the final eight days of the season, the Flyers have two games against Carolina, two games against current Western Conference playoff teams in Dallas and St. Louis and one game against the Rangers.
Throw in games against Ottawa and Montreal at home and a game in Chicago in March and that’s the final 15 games in a nutshell. Not an easy schedule for sure.
But the Flyers have defied the odds enough during this run. If they can steal a few games here and there, they will hang around in the race.
The other three teams the Flyers are chasing for one of two available playoff spots all face their own scheduling challenges and it’s really rather subjective as to who has the tougher schedule of the three.
You could argue that Carolina is the easiest target for the Flyers. For now, they are seven points ahead of the Flyers, but the Flyers can make up four points on the Hurricanes with regulation wins in the two head-to-head games against them in the final eight days of the season, including the regular season finale.
That really leaves three or four points separating the two teams with 10 games to be played by Carolina before meeting the Flyers. Carolina’s opponents before facing the Flyers: Nashville, Colorado, Columbus, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Minnesota, Montreal and a home-and-home against Washington. Only two teams on that list are not in the playoffs at the moment, and Colorado is only four points out as of Friday night.
How about Montreal? Well, they have a difficult schedule too. Friday against the struggling Anaheim Ducks proved to be anything but a breather, as they suffered an 8-2 defeat. Now, Montreal is off until Tuesday when they face Detroit, one of the easier opponents remaining on the schedule. From there, Montreal faces the Islanders twice, Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo and Carolina through March 24. Montreal’s final five games are absolutely brutal too, facing Columbus, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Washington and Toronto.
Columbus may be the most likely opponent to make the playoffs, even though they are not in the picture as of Friday night. The team made too many additions at the deadline to not make a run down the stretch. Who does Columbus face down the stretch? They close out a home-and-home against Pittsburgh on Saturday before games against the Islanders, Bruins, Hurricanes and Bruins again by March 17. Calgary has been a tough team, but the Jackets do have meetings with Edmonton, Vancouver, the Rangers and Ottawa over the last two weeks of the season that should allow them to earn some valuable points.
The bottom line is that while the Flyers schedule may look brutal in an effort to make up seven points, winning 10 of the 15 games may be enough to do it, especially if they win the head-to-head games against Montreal and Carolina that remain.
At this time of year, every team is facing difficult matchups and any slip-ups can prove costly. It’s why Wednesday’s loss by the Flyers felt so crushing. In reality, it was just a better team taking it to the Flyers. That said, the Flyers maybe could have actually afforded to lose a game. After all, they enter Saturday no worse for wear in the standings.
It will still take a lot to make it happen, and while the Flyers can’t pay attention to the surrounding and the standings, they will certainly need some help to make an improbable comeback to the playoffs complete.
There are times where it may not seem like it, but there is still a way for the Flyers to pull this off, at least for now with 15 games left.
Kevin Durso is Flyers insider for 97.3 ESPN and Flyers editor for SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.