By Harriett Michener
So, do the Flyers have a chance to make the playoffs?
They have accumulated 55 points through 54 games, sitting eight back of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who have a game in hand, for the final wild card spot.
Realistically, the Blue Jackets are the only team in the East at real risk of relinquishing their spot.
The other wild card will most likely be filled by the fourth-place finisher from the Atlantic Division, either the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins or Montreal Canadiens, and all three are at least four points ahead of Columbus and 10 ahead of the Flyers.
Before their last two improbable runs, the Flyers weren’t very far ahead of where they are now. In 2018, they had 59 through 53 games; in 2016, they had 57. In both campaigns, they finished 17-7-5 (39 points), clearing the ninth-place team in the East by two or more points.
Those 17-7-5 finishes are a good starting point, but they’ll have to do a bit better this time around. The fewest points an Eastern Conference team has needed to make the playoffs under the current format has been 93, but they usually finish in the 96-point range. Columbus is pacing for roughly 96.
Given that they have already lost the season series with Columbus and are at a seven-game disadvantage in regulation-or-overtime wins, there are no tiebreakers to rely on. That means, at bare minimum, the Flyers will need about 44 more points in their final 29 games for a safe shot at a playoff spot.
There’s always the possibility that Columbus stumbles slightly and eases the path. Uncertainty swirls around the team’s two biggest stars, forward Artemi Panarin and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who both may be on their way out of town in free agency–and perhaps sooner, if the right offers arrive. John Tortorella’s teams have also been historically prone to streakiness, so they may just as easily put that final playoff berth out of reach as they could relinquish it.
And Columbus isn’t the only team ahead of the Flyers. Should the Blue Jackets slip, the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes both have a four-point leg-up on the Flyers to steal the spot.
So, assuming the final Eastern wild card team finishes between 93 and 97 points, these are all of the record combinations that would produce a minimum of 94 to 98 points points in the Flyers’ final 29 games:
|94 points||95 points||96 points||97 points||98 points|
Not an easy road, indeed. Many of those scenarios are implausible: They could in fact lose more games than they win and still get 97 points as long as all the losses take longer than 60 minutes, but that seems highly unlikely. As it stands, the best hope is for a combination of Columbus slipping slightly and a finish that takes their previous 17-7-5 runs and flips the regulation and OT/SO losses, to give them a minimum of 95 points.
Looking at the schedule, there’s nothing clearly favorable about the task ahead. The remaining games are almost evenly split between home and away games (15 home, 14 away). The Flyers have fared slightly better at home so far this season, posting a 13-10-3 record to their 11-13-3 road line. It’s important to note that one of those home games will be rather irregular, because it’s the 2019 Stadium Series matchup outside at Lincoln Financial Field against the Pittsburgh Penguins later this month.
Likewise, the quality of competition is slightly weighted towards teams currently in playoff position (17 in, 12 out as of today). That includes a steady diet of division rivals, including three meetings each with the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division – the New York Islanders, Washington Capitals and the Penguins. They’ll also be treated to a game each against the explosive Maple Leafs and league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning.
They do see the lone vulnerable team in an Eastern playoff spot once more, in a Feb. 28 game in Columbus that could represent a four-point swing in the standings. And if the Hurricanes surge into that final berth, the Flyers will have two shots at them in the last two weeks of the season.