Eight games to go to the bottom line: Are the Flyers going to get in or not?
But after they won just five of their first 16 games, or after they fell nine points out of the last playoff spot on January 25, had the hockey gods offered them a tie for eighth place with eight games to go, the Flyers would have signed on the dotted line for sure.
Even eight days ago, after this team was dominated on home ice by Pittsburgh, the offer of five points on a daunting four-game trip across three time zones would have made your hands grab for a pen even quicker than a Claude Giroux backswing.
It was hard to go to bed mad early Sunday morning. If that same game is played ten times, the Flyers, who doubled the shots on a well-coached Coyotes team that gave Philadelphia nothing cheap all night (except for that Martin Hanzal shove of Giroux into the boards) would win eight of those times.
“We’ve battled hard this entire road trip,” said Dave Hakstol. “We battled pretty hard tonight but came up on the short end.
“We go home off this trip in control of our own destiny.”
Five of the last eight are at home, four against teams in playoff position. The game with Detroit is at Joe Louis Arena, but on the front end of a back-to-back, where you would want it.
The Red Wings have seven remaining, three at home, four against teams in playoff positions, including nobody nearly as good as the Washington team that is coming to the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night. But at this point, and in this tight league, the who, where and when doesn’t matter as much as the what. And what the Flyers are bringing is a relentlessness that makes you feel good about their direction, an arrow pointing up no matter how the puck bounces or how many Mike Smiths they run into during the final two weeks.
What had been a well-managed road game, on tired legs on the second of back-to-back nights, blew up on them in Columbus because of a unnecessary icing. The Flyers took over halfway through the contest in Denver and didn’t bat an eyelid when the Avalanche grabbed a 2-1 lead in the third period, and came roaring back to win.
In Glendale, the Flyers let in a disheartening goal with a second to go in the middle period and went right back to work in the third, coming up a goal short only because of a spectacular post-to-post save by Smith on Brayden Schenn.
The Flyers should be tired, but don’t look it, instead appear to be tired of too many years of not giving themselves the best possible chance to win. They have taken fewer dumb penalties at the worst possible times and are better at killing the ones they can’t help.
No longer does this team take whole periods off. When the Flyers get beat it’s because the Penguins – you saw what they did the next day in Washington – played a near-perfect road game or because an opposition goalie shines.
With Michal Neuvirth out, there is no net below them but the Flyers aren’t playing like a team looking down in fear. The Flighty Flyers of the last few years are gone. They are 13-5-4 since last losing consecutive games 22 contests ago and have been, for a sample size two months long, as good as anybody in the conference outside of Washington.
They are playing like they have earned each other’s trust, and yours, too, headed into the final 14 days. For all intents and purposes, the Flyers have been in the playoffs since they started to crawl back into contention and, essentially, have made it to their finals.
No matter how it comes out, you would have signed up for this fun, too.