Flyers in prime position to make NHL playoffs
Leave to the Flyers to do things differently. Unlike the proverbial saying about the weather, they came into the month of March like lambs — and left like lions.
And thanks to earning 20 of a possible 28 points during a grueling stretch that included four games against the NHL’s top three teams and six against the 10 best, it will take a virtual April swoon to keep them out of the playoffs.
The way Craig Berube’s team refused to be denied Sunday vs. the current No. 1 Bruins, storming the gates and forcing the action with a season’s high 52 shots before Vinny Lecavalier’s second goal of the day with 25 seconds remaining earned them a valuable point, was typical of this March to remember. Yes, the Bruins eventually prevailed 4-3 in the dreaded shootout — which will happily disappear from the scene once the postseason gets underway. But considering how Boston toyed with them, 6-1 the last time they came to town shows just how far the Flyers have come.
“I think this is a good proving point,” said goalie Steve Mason, who uncharacteristically let in a couple of soft goals, before coming up huge in the third period to keep his team within a goal and set the stage for Lecavalier’s dramatics. “I thought we carried the play for the majority of the game. Right now they’re the number-one team in the league, and the guys were going toe-to-toe with them. It’s a good sign.”
Not to mention a fitting conclusion to a month in which they staked their claim as a team to reckon with come playoff time. Remember the Flyers ended February with a 7-3 home embarrassment vs. San Jose in the first game after the Olympics.
But beginning two days later when they solved longtime nemesis Henrik Lundqvist in a 4-2 win over the Rangers to start the new month, the Flyers became a team on a mission. From there they went 8-3-2, including a weekend sweep of the hated Penguins, coupled with victories over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and current No. 1 in the West, Blues.
Speaking of St. Louis, that’s where the Flyers will try not to be April fools tonight, followed by a key Metropolitan Division home game vs. the club chasing them in the standings, Columbus, Thursday. After that it’s a Saturday trip to Beantown. In other words, all that March gladness aside, there’s still more work to be done.
“We’ve got some big games coming up and every point is important,” said Lecavalier, reveling in reaching the 400 goal milestone, though No. 401 proved even bigger. “So that one point was important. Now we have to move on and think about our next game.”
Two weeks from today the Flyers fate will be sealed, but unless they completely unravel or the Rangers fade at the same time the Blue Jackets go on a roll, we seemed destined for the matchup predicted here over a month ago: Flyers-Rangers.
What’s at stake, though, is home ice. Factoring in that the Flyers have now dropped eight straight at the Garden — most recently Wednesday’s decisive 3-1 loss — that’s not an insignificant issue.
While the Rangers currently hold a two-point advantage with 88 points with Columbus (82) and Washington (81) also in the mix, the Flyers do have something else going for them: two games in hand.
Of course, to make the most of them they need to win or at least salvage a point they way they did Sunday.
“It’s like playoff hockey,” said Berube, whose 39-27-8 club will play five of its remaining eight games on the road after an 11-4-2 stretch with 13 of those at home. “We need the points so we’re going after it.”
Indeed, they have. But thanks to their successful March, the prospect of the Flyers playing not only April, but into May and even June don’t seem like such a pipedream anymore.