It was just three weeks ago when Philadelphia Flyers fans were actually rooting for the team to lose in order to increase its chances of landing the top pick in the NHL draft to select stud center Jack Hughes.
However, as the Flyers prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday at the Wells Fargo Center, those same fans have probably reversed course and are pulling for the team to win to increase its chances of qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Flyers were 16-23-6, had the second-fewest points in the NHL and were 14 points out of the last postseason spot on Jan. 12. But thanks to their recent eight-game winning streak, though, they are just six points back of the Penguins for the final wild-card position.
When pressed about their renewed chances following last Monday’s 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks, the players and head coach all said they are only focused on the next game, which is fine and predictable, especially in early February.
But, the media and fans are focused on the playoffs. Therefore, the million dollar question is, can the Flyers complete a historic run and make the playoffs?
With 27 regular season games left, here are three reasons they will make it, and three reasons they will not.
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They will because of …
1. Carter Hart
The 20-year-old goaltender has stabilized the position, infused the roster with confidence and energy and shown the Flyers that they can possibly ride his talents beyond the regular season. Hart, who is 11-5-1 – and riding an eight-game winning streak - with a goals-against average of 2.45 and .926 save percentage, was named the NHL's Second Star of the Week two weeks ago.
2. The trade deadline
While it looked as if new General Manager Scott Fletcher would be a seller at the Feb. 25 deadline, he now might try to add a player, or two, for the stretch drive. Don’t expect a two-month rental who will be a free agent this summer, but a top-four veteran defenseman or top-six forward who can help this year and beyond.
3. The Eastern Conference
Outside of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have a league-high 80 points, no other team in the East has locked up a playoff berth. Although it’s hard to imagine the Flyers catching the Metropolitan-leading New York Islanders (70 points) or defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals (67), the Columbus Blue Jackets (65), and the fading Penguins (63), who the Flyers play two more times after Monday are within reach.
They won’t because of …
1. The giant hole they dug themselves
To illustrate just how bad the Flyers were for the first three-plus months, consider that they have won nine of their last 10 games and are still six points back of a playoff spot. Also, lose three of four and fall back double-digit points and the task becomes even more monumental.
2. Too many young players
With the exception of Hart, it’s difficult to count on the rest of the team’s first- and second-year players (Nolan Patrick, Oscar Lindblom, Travis Sanheim, etc.) to sustain this level of play for the next two months. Those players typically fade down the stretch – not the other way around.
3. The schedule
After Monday's game, the Flyers play 17 of their final 26 contests against teams that would be in the playoffs. Plus, nine of those games are on the road, where they are just 11-13-3.