-Jake Voracek, February 25
Well Jake, your boys did it. With the Flyers’ impressive win over Tampa Bay on Monday night, they completed their season-long six-game homestand with a 5-1 record. That has taken the Flyers to the doorstep of a playoff spot with 17 games remaining. According to the website sportsclubstats.com, the Flyers have gone from an 18.5 percent chance of making the playoffs on Feb. 25 to a 40.6 percent chance after Monday’s win.
And they did all of it without Voracek, who’s been sidelined with a lower body injury. Voracek is working towards a return, and the Flyers are looking forward to getting one of their best players back, rested and refreshed for the stretch run.
With that homestand complete, the situation is this – barring a collapse or a surge from some other team, the likely scenario is the Flyers, the Penguins and the Red Wings will be batting each other for the two wild card playoff spots. Two will probably get in, and one will not. Circumstances can change, but statistically, that is the most likely scenario, and is the basis for the rest of this examination.
This can be a tricky time of year. As the Flyers found out last year, even when within what seems to be striking distance of a playoff spot, suddenly points can be hard to make up when the season hits March. That’s because the NHL calendar, by design, shifts to mostly intra-conference play late in the season. So if your team is chasing a bunch of other teams, chances are those teams play each other, which means at least one of them is getting points.
However, the Flyers have put themselves in an excellent spot this year as they head into the final five weeks of the season. Of their last 17 games, three of them are against Pittsburgh and two are against Detroit. Take care of business in those games, and the Flyers will be in a very good situation.
As a group, the Flyers will not worry about what’s down the road. They have gotten to this point by taking the schedule one game at a time, and their focus on the stretch run will be solely on obtaining the next two points available. (In fact, any players reading this article should stop doing so at this point.) For everyone else, here’s a breakdown of what the Flyers are facing over the rest of the season.
What They Need
The Flyers have 73 points with 17 games to play, meaning their maximum possible number of points is 107. (In reality, a 17-0 finish is probably not going to happen.) It’s more realistic that they will finish somewhere between 98 points (good) and 92 points (bad).
The last time the Flyers made the playoffs, in 2013-14, they went on a similar second-half surge and got in with 94 points – although they only needed 93 points to do so. The previous year was a shortened season, but the Islanders took the last spot with the adjusted equivalent of 94 points. Back in 2011-12, both Ottawa and Washington made it in with 92 points.
Last year, however, there was a big jump. Pittsburgh took the second wild-card spot with 98 points, leaving Boston as the first 96-point team in league history to miss the playoffs.
That doesn’t look like it will happen this year though, unless two of the Flyers, Penguins and Red Wings suddenly take off. The point-per-game averages of those three teams all project for a finish in the mid-90-point range at the end of the year. So again, it’s three teams for two spots, and it’s a matter of who can make the surge.
Here’s what the Flyers need to get to certain point totals that should put them at or close to a playoff spot:
98: record of 12-5-1, 11-4-3 or equivalent (25 points)
97: record of 12-6-0, 10-4-2 or equivalent (24 points)
96: record of 11-5-1, 10-5-3 or equivalent (23 points)
95: record of 11-8-0, 10-6-2 or equivalent (22 points)
The Flyers have a total of 10 points on the line against the Penguins and Red Wings. They play Pittsburgh on March 19 at home, on April 3 in Pittsburgh, and on April 9 at home. (That April 9 game was supposed to be the last game of the year, but keep in mind the Flyers now end their season at the New York Islanders on April 10 in a game that could decide everything. Pittsburgh and Detroit both finish their seasons on April 9.) The Flyers play Detroit at home on March 15 and in Motown on April 6. Wins just in those five games could mean a four-point gain on the Red Wings and a six-point gain on Pittsburgh.
As for the Penguins and Red Wings, they only play each other once over their final 17 games. This is good news for the Flyers because that means there’s only one situation in the final weeks where one of those two teams is guaranteed to get points.
What Else Is Left
Aside from the five games against Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Flyers play six more games against teams currently in a playoff position. They play Chicago, Florida, Tampa Bay and Washington once apiece and they play the Islanders twice. The battles each of these teams are in, and what they are playing for, will vary. Tampa Bay and Florida are in a very tight battle with Boston over playoff seeding in the Atlantic; only two of those three teams will have home ice advantage in the first round. Chicago is in a slightly different battle for playoff seeding in the Central; they’re jockeying with Dallas for clinching home ice through the first three rounds of the playoffs. The Islanders are trying to catch the Rangers for home ice in the first round. By the time the Flyers get to Washington on March 30, the Caps will be playing for nothing more than to see what their new high score is going to be. They will break their franchise records for wins and points, and will likely win the Presidents Trophy running away.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Flyers have six games remaining against teams outside of the playoff picture – one each against Arizona, Columbus, Colorado, Ottawa, Toronto and Winnipeg. These are the games that make Flyers fans a little nervous, because the team has had struggles in the past against opponents behind them in the standings. For instance, the Flyers haven’t won in Columbus since December 13, 2005. That’s not a typo – they’re 0-4-3 since then. It’s only a seven-game sample size because the Blue Jackets spent most of that time in the Western Conference, and they’ve gone beyond regulation in each of their last three visits.
However, the Flyers have been turning that trend around lately. The month of February included wins over Calgary, Arizona, Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal, New Jersey and Buffalo. Second meetings with the Devils and Canadiens produced overtime/shootout points. Players have pointed to previous issues with getting emotionally ready for those teams, but since they know every game is so important, it’s been easier to do that. So if the Flyers can continue that trend, it’ll go a long way towards reaching their goal.
Despite being on the outside of the playoffs at the moment, the Flyers are in about as good a spot as they could ask for under those circumstances. A finish of 12 wins in the final 17 is completely within this team’s abilities and would virtually guarantee a playoff spot, putting the Flyers above 98 percent playoff probability in sportsclubstats.com’s current projections. Even 10 wins combined with a couple of OT/SO points puts them in a very good spot. Anything less than that is dangerous. But it’s certainly going to make for an exciting final five weeks that hopefully will result with the Flyers continuing their season. For the sake of the health of all, from the organization to the fans, hopefully it doesn’t take a shootout in Game #82.
But as anyone who watched the 2010 playoffs can attest, once you get in, anything can happen.