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Embracing the Challenge

Flyers know tough opponents lie ahead... and that's exactly how they want it

by PhiladelphiaFlyers.com @NHLFlyers

Thirteen games remain in the Flyers' regular season schedule. Factoring the ROW (regulation or overtime wins) tiebreaker, the team is four points out of the playoffs with two teams -- the Columbus Blue Jackets and Montreal Canadiens -- to climb over to move into playoff position.

It's been a remarkable climb for the Flyers. Two months ago, any notion of being in a playoff chase seemed unrealistic. Entering the team's Jan. 10 home game against the Dallas Stars, the Flyers were in the basement of the entire NHL, with just 36 points. They were 17 points (16 standings points and a steep ROW disadvantage) out of the lower wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. 

Since that time, the team has gone 19-5-2. The playoffs are a legitimate possibility now, but the rest of the Flyers' schedule is very difficult.

"It's been realistic for us for awhile. Everyone believes. That's our goal. That's where we are pushing towards," said second-year center Nolan Patrick.

That said. the Flyers realize that there's a further uphill climb. The remaining schedule is a tough one, too. It all starts with a three-in-four gauntlet at home against Washington on Thursday (without the services of suspended right wing Jakub Voracek, unless the appealed second game of his two-game NHL banishment is rescinded by commissioner Gary Bettman). 

The next night, the Flyers are in Toronto to take on a Maple Leafs team that will be idle on Thursday night. Come Sunday, the Flyers are in Pittsburgh to conclude the season series with the Penguins.

Including the upcoming three games, the Flyers remaining schedule contains a steady diet of teams either in playoff position or on the bubble. There are two more games against the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals (one home, one road), two more games with Toronto (one road, one home), one in Pittsburgh, a home game against Montreal, road games in St. Louis and Dallas, and two more meetings with the Carolina Hurricanes (one road, and a home game on the final day of the season). 

"Sounds a little bit too much if you look at the big picture, so we try to take it one game at a time and see where it goes. We're a pretty confident group right now and we just find ways to win games," said left winger Michael Raffl.

For the team, the next three games -- out of which the club may need five of six possible points or even all six to gain or at least hold ground -- will be a huge factor in whether the Flyers can go the distance in the playoff race. If those games are won, truly anything seems possible. Any backsliding will only shorten an already small runway for lifting off into a playoff spot.

"We've got a huge stretch coming up and that's going to make or break the season. We'll see what happens the next two games, but we look at Washington the next game and we go about it. It's good that we're playing good hockey in this stretch, but it doesn't mean anything if we can't have a good outing when we play those guys," center/winger Scott Laughton said.

This time of year, there's a lot of scoreboard watching, especially when you are the team that is playing catch-up in the standings. While interim head coach Scott Gordon and many players admit that they do check up on what's going on in other games, especially right after their own game ends, they also know that taking care of what's within their control has to be the main priority. If the Flyers' lose, it won't matter what happens in other games. 

In Gordon's view, the Flyers have to maintain a mentality where the team isn't only competing against the team that's lined up against them on the ice, they are also competing to be better than the clubs they are trying to beat out in the standings. They may not gain ground on a given night, but don't put yourself in position to need outside help not to lose any further ground.

"The bottom line is we're playing against the two teams in front of us, because we're tight, we're playing against Montreal and we're playing against Columbus, that's where we are, it doesn't matter what the other jerseys look like, that's what we're up against, so we've gotta be mindful of that and understand that whether it's Ottawa, Boston or Tampa Bay - that we're playing the task is still the same. It's two points," Gordon said.

 

TEAM NOTES:

* Scott Gordon announced his goaltending plans for the upcoming back-to-back. Carter Hart will get the call in net for Thursday's game vs. Washington with Elliott slated for Friday night in Toronto.

* Hart will make his return to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 20 at Montreal. Gordon cited preparation and routine in the schedule is favorable in the first game of back-to-back as a factor, rather than returning from injury and playing the second game on the road.

* Gordon also noted that while the team is going to get their fair share of odd-man rushes, power-play and Grade A opportunities, an important factor at this time of year is getting into the dirty areas around the net. The "pinball" goal from Gostisbehere-Couturier-Lindblom was a perfect example of that and got the team the equalizer last night.

* Finally, with Jake Voracek out of the lineup, the Flyers went with 11 forwards and 7 D. One contributing factor has been the solid play of rookie defenseman Phil Myers, who displayed some exceptional skill in last night's game that not only created opportunity, but his ability to recover quickly with his stride and long reach being an advantage.

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