The Flyers reduced their magic number to lock up a playoff berth to three points over the holiday weekend, thanks almost entirely to the Bruins and a resurgent Petr Mrazek.
Boston did them a huge favor by sacking the Florida Panthers, 5-1, on Saturday, and then on Sunday lost to the Flyers and a sharp Mrazek, 4-3, in overtime. It gave the Flyers 94 points and an eight-point cushion over the Panthers, who have played two less games, heading into the final week of the season.
Any combination of the Flyers picking up three points in their three remaining games or the Panthers surrendering three points, via a regulation loss or in overtime, would clinch their first playoff spot in two years.
“Every game is big right now,” said Nolan Patrick, who scored his 11th goal of the season. “The playoff push is tight and every point is huge.”
Mrazek made 36 saves, including a handful of brilliant ones, and turned in his second straight strong performance.
It was the kind of laser-focused game the Flyers have been looking for from Mrazek, who has been mostly disappointing and inconsistent since arriving from Detroit in a trade in February. He also turned aside all 17 shots after replacing Michael Neuvirth, who suffered a lower-body injury, midway through the second period last Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche.
“We knew we would need a great goaltending performance today,” said Flyers coach Dave Hakstol, whose team is tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division. “We got a great one from him in Colorado and that led right into today. He had two or three great saves and it was huge for our hockey team.”
With Brian Elliott scheduled to return this week from a six-week absence, rookie Alex Lyon and even Neuvirth if his injury isn’t serious in the mix, the Flyers will have four goalies to choose from to name to the roster for the first round of the playoffs.
They can only carry two and Mrazek is trying to keep his name at, or near, the top of the list. He should get at least one more opportunity to showcase himself on Tuesday against the New York Islanders. Ideally, the Flyers would prefer Elliott, who practiced with the team on Saturday, to play in the final two games, if possible.
“I don’t think about it like that,” Mrazek said. “We are going game-by-game right now. We know what is on the line. If I get the chance to play, I am going to play my best and show through my performance how I can play.”
Note: Claude Giroux’s goal in the first period set a career-high in points, and his game-winner in overtime furthered it to 95. The goal also extended his scoring streak to seven games.