At first, it was improbable. Then, it was interesting. Now, it’s a reality.
The Philadelphia Flyers, pretty much left for dead a month ago, are officially playoff contenders.
Behind a pair of matinee wins over the weekend against the Nashville Predators -- who have the most points in the league -- in a shootout on Saturday and the Washington Capitals on Sunday, the Flyers inched within four points of a postseason berth. Their 63 points trail the Boston Bruins, who have 67 and hold the final wild card spot, as well as the Florida Panthers (64).
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“We’re back in the race now,” Flyers’ captain Claude Giroux said after Sunday’s 3-2 victory.
It didn’t seem possible last month. On Jan. 16, the Flyers were a season-high 13 points out of the wild card spot, had lost four of their last six and their season was quickly tumbling out of control.
However, they are 8-1-4 in their last 13 games since Jan. 20, when they beat the Penguins in the final game before the all-star break and have gained 20 out of a possible 26 points.The Flyers have played 10 games that have been decided by one goal during the stretch and are 6-0-4 in those contests.
“We had to (change). We were going in the wrong direction,” defenseman Braydon Coburn said. “It’s a good four points we earned this weekend at home. Now we have to go on the road (to Carolina Tuesday and Toronto on Thursday) and keep this thing going. We got ourselves right in the mix now.”
The key to the turnaround has been putting three good periods together and finishing strong.
“We are just playing 60 minutes of hockey,” said Michael Del Zotto, who had the game-winner late in the third period on Sunday. “I think before we were finding ways to lose instead of finding ways to win. We’re doing that now.”
Even with the latest two wins, the job is far from over.
“(This weekend was) a huge boost but we’ve beaten other good teams this year,” coach Craig Berube said. “We just have to carry it on.”
The NHL trade deadline in March 2 and unlike the other major sports is typically a frenzy of a day. However, with little cap room, no real trade chips and a refusal to deal prospects, Flyers GM Ron Hextall will probably be rather quiet this season. Even still, keep an eye on these three players who could find themselves on different teams.
Berube has shown little faith recently in the veteran back-up goalie, who is 1-4 in his last five starts and has been inconsistent all season. Berube even started minor-league journeyman Rob Zepp in back-to-back games over Emery over the weekend. It was announced late Monday afternoon that Emery was, in fact, nursing a lower body injury.
He would bring a steady and veteran presence to any team’s blue line that is looking to make a deep playoff run and relieve the Flyers of his $4.5 million cap hit through next year. The Flyers have depth on defense and could absorb his loss.
It’s a wild card but the Flyers have been linked to the Oilers talented right-winger for a couple of years. The 24 year old, who scored 34 goals in 2011-2012, could arrive in a package deal – highlighted by Coburn, maybe – and provide an offensive boost to one of the top lines.