The Philadelphia Flyers clinched themselves a playoff birth Saturday evening with a 3-1 victory over their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Pittsburgh was without many of the key pieces that have made them one of the hottest teams in the NHL. In addition, goaltender Matt Murray left the game with 2:35 left in the first period after colliding with Brayden Schenn. So maybe the quality of the Flyers’ playoff-clinching victory can be put into question but who really cares? It’s all about getting in and Philadelphia has done just that. It could not have happened at a more opportunistic time either.
Going into Saturday’s hockey games, there was still plenty of uncertainty on which team would fill the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers, Red Wings, and Bruins were all in the running, with Boston and Detroit also battling for third place in the Atlantic Division. Neither Atlantic team could finish their regular season on a high note as both teams suffered losses. With the Bruins losing in ugly fashion to the Senators, Detroit had clinched the postseason for the 25th straight time.
By the time the Flyers and Penguins got on the ice for the game’s opening faceoff, Philadelphia’s clinching scenarios got a whole lot less complex. All the orange and black needed to do was obtain two points and they had two games to do it. Luckily for Philadelphia, they got their job done right away making tonight’s game against the New York Islanders insignificant.
Sunday= Day of Rest
The Flyers are not only happy to have the wild card spot in the bag because it removes a giant weight off their shoulders, Philadelphia now has the opportunity to provide some players with much-needed extra rest.
Anyone following the Flyers this season is aware that the team has been playing playoff hockey for the past two months. Philadelphia could never “take it easy” knowing that just one or two bad nights could take them out of the postseason picture completely. Losing three straight games this past week against Pittsburgh, Detroit, and Toronto indicated that the Flyers were beginning to burn out.
Philadelphia netminder, Steve Mason, has made 12 consecutive starts with Michal Neuvirth being sidelined due to injury and would have had to make his 13th straight start tonight if the game had any meaning whatsoever. Luckily tonight’s tilt against the Islanders means nothing for Philadelphia and Mason will finally receive a well deserved night off.
One would expect that Mason will not be the only member of the orange and black not suiting up tonight. Jakub Voracek has not been the same since returning from his lower-body injury so he will most likely not see any action in the hopes of feeling a little more rejuvenated come playoff time. Captain Claude Giroux will probably be out as well and it would not be surprising to see Wayne Simmonds get a breather too.
Focus Moves to Washington
Philadelphia will take on Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Obviously, this will not be a simple task for the members of the Flyers and very few people are expecting an upset to occur. However, the Flyers are more than capable of proving the hockey world wrong (again) and their chances have gotten a little better now that they have a little more time to rest up.