Is it possible, that just three months after the playoffs seemed like an impossibility, that the Flyers could wind up in fifth place in the East? Or fourth? What about third? Or even second?
Some of those are very reasonable possibilities. Others, not so much. But the more you look at it, the more it seems that sixth place probably isn't the Flyers destiny. At the very least, it's in their hands.
Let's take a look at each of the teams that are currently ahead of the Flyers in the standings. Washington won't be caught unless they lose every game the rest of the season, a highly unlikely proposition. Let's start at the bottom with the other team from a nation's capital, the Ottawa Senators.
Many consider the Sens a fluke team. They had a nice lengthy winning streak a few weeks back that propelled them up in the Eastern Conference race, and riding two mediocre goaltenders seems to be working for them at the moment. But when all is said and done, the Sens are four points ahead of the Flyers right now having played two extra games. If the Flyers are to win those games in hand, they'll sit tied with the Sens, and if you add that the two teams play one more game against each other on March 23, it becomes even more possible to catch them.
Ahead of the Sens, the Sabres sit tied with New Jersey at 81 points. They've gone through a rough patch recently but seem to be breaking out of it post-Olympics, winning three straight. It's all up to Ryan Miller for them, and considering that he's, um, unbelievable, Buffalo is in good hands.
Then there's the Devils, who have completely fallen apart since even before the Olympic break. Sure, they had a nice 6-3 win in New Jersey last night, but on the whole, they've gone 7-12-2 since January 14. Things are not going well, and you could even call last night's game a bit of a weird one considering there was virtually no defense on either side of the puck.
So, you have a reeling Devils team sitting seven points ahead of Philadelphia right now. If they continue to struggle, the Flyers can certainly catch them. They'll be helped if they can win the one remaining game between the two teams on March 28. If they can manage that, it's just a five point gap the rest of the way. That's manageable, especially if New Jersey continues their lengthy slump into April. Much stranger things have happened.
Catching Pittsburgh would be one of those much stranger things, for example. Is it possible? Yes, it certainly is. Will it happen? Likely not. Here's why: Pittsburgh is currently up 10 points on the Flyers, but we do have another game remaining against the Pens. If they can scratch two points out of it, they also have a game in hand over Pittsburgh. That's four points made up right there, and if making up five on the Devils is possible, making up six on Pittsburgh is as well. But, that's the major difference.
New Jersey is seriously slumping to the point where fans dont have answers, while the Penguins have just one loss in their last ten games. In other words, they're red hot and it's not likely they'll be caught.
The Flyers should focus on New Jersey. That means passing Ottawa and taking the fourth seed. It's more than possible, really. As Philly fans, we're kind of inherently negative. But you know what? This is reason for some optimism. The two teams ahead of the Flyers are playing mediocre-to-downright-poor hockey, and there's no reason that our team can't catch up.
Since January 1, the Flyers have earned 33 points in 25 games. New Jersey has just 22 points in that time. Buffalo: 25. Pittsburgh: 31. The orange and black are playing just as well as these teams are right now at the time it matters most, so why can't game one of the 2010 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals be at the Wachovia Center?