PITTSBURGH – When the Flyers last played in a game six days ago – a 4-2 loss to Tampa Bay – there was an air of disappointment that clouded the team as they walked out of the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
And why not? They were headed into a rare five-day layoff as the team who had played the most games in the NHL and were five points out of a playoff spot.
While they were going to be idle, the Flyers were going to watch as 17 games were played involving teams with whom they were chasing the playoffs.
It seemed all but certain that the chasm between the Flyers and the playoffs would grow in those five days.
And yet, Wednesday came, and it was still five points. Thursday passed, and it was still five. It was five after Friday too.
Certainly with a full slate of games Saturday it would change, right?
And now, there are no teams who have games-in-hand on the Flyers, instead, it’s the other way around in some cases.
And now, if things break right tonight, and the Flyers are able to snap the Pittsburgh Penguins 11-game winning streak, the Flyers can close to within three points of a playoff spot with 17 to play.
And now, unlike last week in Tampa, the Flyers have some optimism.
“Having a week off, we were expecting the worst to happen,” Matt Read said. “But, you never know what’s going to happen [in hockey]. Luck favored us in the last week. The teams we needed to win or lose [did]. Things kind of went our way.”
The Flyers actually got so lucky, that they now control their own destiny in their pursuit of the playoffs.
Half of their remaining games will come against the teams they have a realistic chance to catch in the standings.
“It’s up to us now to put ourselves in a better position than where we are today moving forward,” coach Peter Laviolette said. If we’re going to climb we have to make sure we do our work. It’s good that we got a little bit of help, but we have to win some hockey games.”
Last week it was thought the Flyers would have to win 14-of-18 to get themselves in position to make the playoffs, but after getting the help that they got, they may not have to win so many.
Now, something like 11-6-1 could do it – if they get most of those 11 wins in those nine games.
“The bottom line is we have to start winning games,” Kimmo Timonen said. “What other teams are doing, that’s not our business. We look at the standings obviously and everything is still possible, but we have to win our games to get there.”
Danny Briere hurt himself in practice Saturday and will be out of the lineup tonight in Pittsburgh with an upper body injury.
General manager Paul Holmgren said Briere’s injury wasn’t serious and that he was day-to-day.
Briere won’t be the only player missing from this big game though as the Penguins announced that neither Evgeni Malkin nor Kris Letang would be in the lineup for Pittsburgh.
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