Only time will tell how the Flyers fare against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday evening at Wells Fargo Center and whether Tuesday's home game against the Washington Capitals will have enormous meaning -- or none at all -- for the Flyers' hopes of securing an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

One thing is for sure: The Flyers put in a yeoman effort, up and down the lineup in Thursday's 4-1 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Playing against a Rangers team that was -- and still is -- in strong position to win the President's Trophy (or least finish atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings), the Flyers played one of their best two-way games of the last six weeks.

The final 40 minutes were especially strong, The Flyers built a 3-1 lead to take into the third period. Over the final 20 minutes, Philly staged an outstanding closeout in which they added another goal to their lead and limited the Rangers to two shots on goal.

Travis Konecny had a much-needed offensive breakout game (one goal, one assist) in a must-win situation. Samuel Ersson played his best game in several weeks, stopping 24 of 25 shots Those who didn't get on the scoresheet still played strong defensive games.  The team in front of him blocked 19 New York shot attempts.

There is still plenty of work to do for the Flyers. They'll still need outside help over and beyond what they can control, but the team's performance on Thursday was as big as it gets until the puck drops again on Saturday.

Updated Playoff Picture

None of the five games on Friday's NHL schedule have direct bearing on the Flyers' playoff hopes. That changes come Saturday. Here's where things stand for Philly: 85 points, two games remaining, 29 regulation wins, 33 regulation plus overtime wins, 37 total wins.

 The Flyers remain four points behind the New York Islanders for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Islanders hold a game in hand over the Flyers.  It would take back-to-back wins by the Flyers and three straight regulation losses by the Islanders for Philly to finish ahead of the Isles. In the event of a tie in points, the Flyers currently hold a 29-27 regulation win edge in the first tiebreaking category. Third place via tiebreaker is the only route left in play.

The Islanders visit the Rangers on Saturday and the Devils on Monday before hosting the Penguins in the regular season finale next Wednesday. 

The Flyers have a better mathematical chance at securing the lower wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference than they do of finishing third. The main concern here is that the Flyers are currently competing with three other teams -- the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings. All three clubs hold one game in hand over the Flyers.

Entering the weekend, Philly is one standings point plus a 31-29 regulation wins tiebreaker disadvantage behind the Penguins. The Penguins host Boston on Saturday, host the Nashville Predators on Monday and finish up on the road against the Islanders next Wednesday.

The Flyers are tied in points with the Capitals and Red Wings but both teams hold one game in hand. In the event of a points tie, the Flyers and Caps are in a dead heat in regulation, regulation plus overtime and total wins. The Flyers have a 29-27 regulation wins tiebreaker edge over the Red Wings.

Before coming to Philly on Tuesday, the Capitals host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday and host the Boston Bruins on Monday.  Detroit visits the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday and then finishes with a home-and-home set against the Canadiens on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

On paper, the Caps have the hardest remaining slate of games. However, as the Flyers can testify firsthand,  stretch drive games against "spoiler" clubs are by no means guaranteed wins any more than a game against a top-ranked team is an automatic loss. 

Cates Surging toward Finish Line

The 2023-24 season has been a trying second NHL campaign for Flyers forward Noah Cates. He switched his primary position from center back to left wing (his original main position on the ice). He dealt with a broken foot suffered in late November, which sidelined him for six weeks. 

Cates, a solid and reliable all-around forward, has also had to endure a mostly disappointing season from an offensive standpoint. However, he's gotten hot offensively at a crucial time of the season. He has assembled a five-game point streak (3g, 2a) to set a new career high to date. 

Five games ago, Cates was stuck on three goals for the season -- one of which was via a misplay by Vegas goaltender Logan Thompson on October 24 and another via an empty net goal against Tampa Bay on February 27. He had 13 points for the season overall at that point.

Over the last five games, Cates has begun to assert himself more in the attack zone, cutting in more often from the perimeter to the slot and creating plays off his strong forechecking work. At this stage of the season, it's not really about Cates' full-season stats (six goals, 18 points in 57 games played) but about his restored confidence.

The Flyers need offense from wherever they can get it. Cates' late-season push got overshadowed by the team's eight-game winless skid, but was a much-needed bright spot while little else was going right.  

The Newest Flyer: Oscar Eklind

On Monday, April 8, the Flyers announced that the organization has signed Swedish left winger Oscar Eklind to a one-year entry-level contract that will kick in for the 2024-25 season. 

As with all entry-level contracts, Eklind's contract is a two-way deal. He will make $950,000 at the NHL level ($855,000 base salary plus a $95,000 signing bonus) and $82,500 if he's in the American Hockey League with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms. Following the 2024-25 campaign, he can become a restricted free agent.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Eklind spent the 2023-24 season in Sweden's SHL playing for Luleå HF (17 goals, 28 points, 64 penalty minutes in 48 regular season games, no points in seven playoff games). Eklind is not shy about using his size to his advantage, bringing some grit (60 credited hits) and a willingness to battle along the walls or go to the net. Eklind is also a decent skater.

Eklind, who will turn 26 on July 14, has been a late bloomer in Sweden. He is not a pure goal scorer or a fancy puckhandler but is not devoid of skill. He's a tenacious forechecker and plays a straightforward north-south brand of hockey. There are some similarities in his game to longtime Flyers role-playing forward Michael Raffl.

Big Weekend for the Phantoms

Much like the Flyers, the Lehigh Valley Phantoms are locked in a tight race for a spot in the playoffs. In the case of the Phantoms, though, the Flyers' AHL affiliate is working from an advantageous position and has only one team to beat out for the final Calder Cup playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

Entering Friday, the Phantoms (29-29-9) hold a four-point advantage over the Springfield Thunderbird (29-33-5) for the division's sixth and final playoff berth. Both teams have five games remaining in their respective regular season schedules.

The Phantoms face a very tough road test on Friday against the AHL's top team this season, the Hershey Bears (50-12-5). On Saturday, the Phantoms are back home at the PPL Center in Allentown to face the Bridgeport Islanders (24-36-8 but 4-5-1 over their last 10 games). 

The Phantoms have played Hershey tough this season, going 4-5-2 in 11 meetings to date. Each of the last two games between the teams have been 1-0 finals, with the Phantoms winning via shootout at home on March 3 and losing in regulation  on the road on April 2. Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard is having a remarkable season in goal: 25-3-2 record, 1.80 GAA, .927 save percentage, five shutouts.

Lehigh Valley has learned the hard way this season not to overlook Bridgeport simply because of their poor record. The Phantoms are 2-2-0 against the Islanders' AHL affiliate this season, with all four games being decided by a single goal and one of the Lehigh Valley victories (Feb. 10 in Bridgeport) coming via a shootout.

As long as the Phantoms take care of their own business, they needn't worry about what Springfield is doing. The Thunderbirds have a three-game gauntlet this weekend, visiting the Hartford Wolf Pack (30-27-3 but winless in six games and 1-8-1 in their last 10 matches) on Friday, hosting the Charlotte Checkers (37-23-7, 8-1-1 in their last 10 games) on Saturday and then hosting the Providence Bruins (38-19-9, 4-2-4 over their last 10 games) on Sunday.