Hand-picking the Flyers first-round playoff opponent

"Hey, Hartsy. Think I wanna play the Blue Jackets in Round 1."

The Eastern Conference playoff race is starting to get pretty interesting. The Penguins are surging and completely healthy, while the Devils and Flyers are both hanging with each other in the middle of the pack. The Boston Bruins are sinking like Tim Thomas in a swimming pool and the New York Rangers are playing just mediocre enough to potentially fall out of that top spot they've held all year.

Given that the rest of the conference is a complete mess -- Ottawa is Ottawa, the Southeast is the Southeast -- it's looking as though the Flyers are just in a battle with their Atlantic Division foes here. We run this shit, I guess.

There's obviously a lot still up in the air. Will Pittsburgh pass the Rangers? How fall will the Rangers fall? Will the Flyers finish with home ice? But it's getting down to that time when we have to start thinking about potential first-round matchups. Let's take a look at all the potential first-round opponents, where they currently sit and the pros and cons of facing each.

New York Rangers: Obviously, the Rangers have owned the Flyers all year, but with the way they're playing lately -- and the potential that they may have been playing over their heads quite a bit this year (hey, wishful thinking) -- they might be a decent first-round opponent. It would only happen if they were to fall to No. 4 or No. 5, but crazier things have happened, considering Pittsburgh is just four points back with a game in hand entering this weekend.

Would you like to face the Rangers? They have great goaltending and a very solid defense, and they seem to matchup well against the Flyers, but well, it might be better than the ...

Pittsburgh Penguins: Yeah, they're really good. DO NOT WANT

New Jersey Devils: Much like in 2010 -- although perhaps not to the same extent -- the Devils seem like a good matchup for the Flyers. They're young on defense, old in goal and while they're strong at forward, they're not nearly as skilled as the Flyers. Of all the teams in the Atlantic Division, the Devils would probably be the most ideal of matchups.

But then there's the rest of the conference. It seems obvious that in an ideal world, the Flyers would somehow keep winning hockey games the rest of the way but still finish in the No. 6 spot, thus drawing whoever stumbles into the Southeast title. But will that really be the best scenario?

Florida Panthers: I think if there's one team I'd prefer the Flyers to face in the first round, it'd be the Panthers. The season series isn't complete against them, but the Flyers have yet to lose to Florida in the three matchups so far this season. They really aren't that good, either. They have a goal differential of minus-18 heading into Friday's action. Really. I don't need to continue.

Winnipeg Jets: They're a weird matchup for the Flyers, obviously, but there is absolutely no reason the Flyers shouldn't take them in a seven-game series. Of course, the first-round can wear on you in the NHL playoffs, and the travel to Winnipeg as many as three different times could take a toll even if the Flyers were to advance. I'd rather stay away from the Jets, if only for that reason.

Washington Capitals: Oh, the Caps. They're not the same Caps as they were two years ago, last year or even at the beginning of this season, but they're on a roll lately and that could carry over into the postseason. Or perhaps it won't. In any event, the Capitals are probably the best team in the Southeast Division whether they win that spot or not, and if any of those teams are going to give the Flyers fits in the first round, it'd be the Caps.

We can't attach two polls to a post, but it seems as though this should fall into two polls. If the Flyers finish sixth, who would you rather face of those Southeast Division clubs? If they finish higher than sixth, which Atlantic Division foe would you rather face? That's where we'll take our poll, but feel free to answer the first question in the comments.

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