The Flyers might be in a tough spot when the NHL playoffs come around in a few weeks. With the New Jersey Devils 4 points behind them, and the Flyers having a game in hand with 6 to play, it’s looking more and more likely the Flyers are going to end up with the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference unless they can beat the Penguins in the two remaining games and they get some help along the way. They could also drop to 6th with a late losing streak.
It certainly doesn’t look like a favorable year to finish 5th in the conference if you’re the Flyers. In all likelihood, the Flyers will end up playing either the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Rangers in round 1. If the Flyers fail to get the 4th seed in the last 6 remaining games, they will certainly go into the first round as underdogs versus either the Penguins or Rangers. While the Flyers have played the Penguins fairly well this year (3-1 vs. PIT), they have not beaten the New York Rangers (0-5 vs. NYR) at all.
But things have changed since the Flyers last played the Rangers on February 11. And the Flyers will play the Rangers one more time before the end of the season. It will no doubt take that game to see how the Flyers really match up against the Rangers now, but it brings up the question: What would be the best match-up for the Flyers? Who would the Flyers rather play? If you’re picking from the above 2 teams who it’s looking like the Flyers would have a good chance of facing, one would have to assume by the numbers Pittsburgh would be a better match-up, right?
Not so fast. The Rangers have not played very well lately and the Flyers have not faced them since early February. Maybe the Flyers would stand a chance after all.
The Case for the New York Rangers: If this question had been asked last month most Flyer fans would head straight to their fireplace with this article and torch it and wave the white flag on the season. The Flyers have simply been owned by the New York Rangers all year. Their 0-5 record is embarrassing and eats away at everyone in the Flyers locker room. Common sense would say the Flyers would prefer not to face Henrik Lundqvist in round 1 but the Rangers have shown humility as of late. Plus, it’s not exactly like the Rangers were blowing out the Flyers in their match-ups this year. This might be the wish of a lot of Flyer fans if it comes down to it. The road factor may be a little less intimidating but it’s tough to say. The Flyers haven’t played a road playoff game at the World’s Most Famous Arena in quite a while.
The Case for the Pittsburgh Penguins: The Flyers always seem to get up for these games against Pittsburgh since enduring tough playoff losses to them in 2008 and 2009. They have won 3 out of 4 against the Pens with 2 left to play. However, the Flyers didn’t look great in their last game against Pittsburgh being outplayed and outworked but somehow winning anyway. The Penguins also have their number 1 star Sidney Crosby back in the lineup and a nice hot streak heading into playoff time. Dan Bylsma is a really good coach. Combine those bullet points with the fact that the Flyers aren’t too great in Pittsburgh during playoff time in recent memory and maybe that match-up looks like the worst of the two. We’ll have to see how things shake out during the final 6.
The Case for the Outside Chance of Other Match-ups: Obviously, the Flyers would match up better against a team like the Florida Panthers, even if it meant having to play on the road. The situation would be somewhat similar to when the Flyers ended up with a favorite 2-7 match-up against New Jersey in 2010 with the Flyers being the 7th seed. The Flyers would have a strong chance at success with a 3-6 match-up this year the same way they did with a 2-7 in 2010. However that isn’t looking very likely with the way everything is set up unless the Flyers really tank it in the last 6 games.
The Pick: If the Flyers do not fall into the 3-6 match-up which anyone would have to rate #1, the best situation looks to be the Flyers facing off against the Rangers at this point. The Rangers have been more inconsistent of late and with the Penguins having Sidney Crosby back along with a pretty hot run, it would be pretty difficult for the Flyers to go into Pittsburgh and win that series on the road unless they somehow acquired the 4 seed.
No matter who the Flyers play in round 1, right now the climb looks tough for a Flyers team that hasn’t been known for great consistency this season. For now, all we can do is enjoy the ride that is the next couple weeks before the playoffs, and hope the Flyers give us some reasons to believe they can get out of round 1 in one of the above match-ups mentioned.
Justin Johnson is a Senior Correspondent and has been covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers since the 2008-09 season. Justin has covered all levels of hockey across the United States and Canada. Justin is a graduate of Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and currently resides in Southern New Jersey.