The Flyers will never admit it, but there is no way they want to go into the playoffs as the 5th seed in the Eastern Conference this year. I’ve even had a player in a past year joke to me that they wanted to tank to 6th. The biggest reason for these uneven matchups is that the NHL doesn’t utilize an NBA-like system, so the 3rd seed is almost always going to be a weaker team than the 4th seed.
Unfortunately for the Flyers, with their win on Thursday night against Buffalo, they have secured the number 5 seed this year. The Flyers should not fear the Penguins the way they have in past years, because they have handled them much better this year than they did back in 2008 and 2009. But let’s face it, home ice is a huge deal in the playoffs. The buildings are much different, and the atmosphere is much more amped up and loud. You don’t even have to say Pittsburgh is better. Hey, they may not be. But for teams as evenly matched as the Flyers and Penguins, home ice makes all the difference in the world.
The Flyers have no one to blame but themselves for even being in this position. If the Flyers even won just 1 of 8 games against the New York Rangers this season, they would be in a position to have a meaningful last regular season game against Pittsburgh for the 4 seed. Anyone upset at the Rangers for not playing their first line many minutes and top goalie against Pittsburgh should be ashamed. That is a loser’s mentality, which is the exact thing you don’t want come playoff time.
While the Flyers should not be scared of a Pittsburgh matchup, what they should be concerned about is the recent playoff history of 4-5 matchups, including some the Flyers have had themselves. While the teams of past years were very different, the building and atmosphere will be quite similar.
Regarding 4-5 matchups, in 2009 the Flyers played horribly in the final month of the season and blew a home game to the New York Rangers which caused them to fall to 5th, with the Pittsburgh Penguins being the 4th seed. The Flyers lost in 6 games despite a pretty good effort after dropping the first two games in Pittsburgh. That was the infamous game 6 where Max Talbot took a beating from Dan Carcillo when down 3-0 and inspired the Penguin comeback.
In 2006, the Peter Forsberg-led Flyers dropped a 6 game series to the Buffalo Sabres, after a late season collapse caused them to drop to the 5th seed. The series went similar to their others. They dropped 2 on the road, won 2 at home, and ended up succumbing in 6 games.
As previously stated, the teams are different but the numbers compared to the 3-6 matchups are very different.
Home ice is critical. And since the Flyers likely won’t have it, Peter Laviolette and the coaching staff will need to lean on the veterans and team leaders to prepare the younger guys to put forth top notch road efforts. For a lot of the younger guys it will be the first time they’ve been in a situation like this.
Despite the Flyers success against the Penguins during the regular season, when you have the majority of the media, and even some team officials watching the Devils-Red Wings game due to their interest in dropping to 6th (no longer possible), that’s telling. While the chances of winning a 4-5 matchup against the Pens on the road is far from impossible, the odds can be summed up in two words: Not good.
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.