The Flyers' opponent tonight is one with which they've got no shortage of frustrating, annoying history. They were, of course, the last team to beat the Flyers in the playoffs, and last season they were a shootout loss away from sweeping their five-game season series with the Flyers.
Despite the Flyers winning two of their three contests with Jersey this year, neither of those wins came particularly easy, with a 1-0 win and a 3-2 overtime victory getting the Flyers those four points in the standings -- four points which, by the way, is the only difference between the two teams in the standings right now.
Given all of that, it seems more than a little bit ridiculous to think of tonight's game as a bit of an easier one. But given what's on the horizon, is that what we're looking at here?
New Jersey Devils (28-24-13, 69 pts) at Philadelphia Flyers (33-24-7, 73 pts)
7 p.m. | Wells Fargo Center | South Philadelphia
TV: CSN Philly, MSG+, RDS | Radio: 97.5 FM
Get the New Jersey perspective at In Lou We Trust
We talked a little bit about the Devils in the opening part of Monday night's episode of BSH Radio, and ultimately agreed on this conclusion: they're still the same old Devils that will keep games low-scoring, slow everything down, and try and pounce when they see a chance, all while being backed up by Martin Brodeur (which, of course, means something different than it used to). But we're all more or less in agreement that this is a game the Flyers should win.
Well, let's amend that : it's probably a game the Flyers need to win. Not the end of the world or anything if they can't -- they'll still be in a playoff position at the end of the night no matter what happens here and elsewhere around the league -- but consider the following:
- With a regulation win, the Flyers would put six points of separation between them and the Devils (with a game in hand). With Jersey only having 16 more games after tonight, that's a big gap. Meanwhile, if the Devils pull out a win in regulation, they'll narrow the gap to two -- definitely small enough that a playoff berth is a lot easier for them to fathom.
- After tonight, the Flyers play 10 straight games against teams that are currently in a playoff position, including two games against the rival Penguins and four games against the best of the Western Conference. The climb to the playoffs gets a lot steeper beginning this weekend, so they have to take advantage of anything that seems even remotely easy by comparison.
At home, after a pretty lackluster all-around effort on Saturday night against Toronto -- and with three days of rest between tonight's game and the next game -- there's no excuse for the Flyers to not go out and throw everything they've got at the Devils. Of course, the above reasons are also exactly why the Devils need a win tonight moreso than the Flyers, so we'll expect a tough game.
On a different note, surely we're all familiar with tonight's starter in net for the Devils, the aforementioned Martin Brodeur. Tonight will be his 92nd career regular-season start against the Flyers, and I know we've been saying this for probably three or four years now, but given everything that's been going on with his struggles (read: he's been really bad this year) and the Devils apparently trying to (unsuccessfully) move him at the trade deadline, it seems like there's a pretty good chance that this might honest-to-God be his final start against the Flyers in his long career.
So that's something to look forward to. (And really, even though Brodeur's stunk for a while now, would anyone put it past him to put up a great game tonight as a send-off?)
The Devils will be led into this one by third-year center Adam Henrique, who missed some time this week with a back injury but is coming off of a week where he was named the NHL's 3rd Star of the Week with five goals in three games. For a team that doesn't score a ton, that's pretty huge, and the folks over at In Lou We Trust talked the other day about how great he's been lately. if the Flyers can manage to cool him down a bit, it'll probably go a long way.
From the Flyers' end of things, no word as of Monday night if Steve Downie, who missed Saturday's game with the flu, will be in tonight's game, but you'd think he should be ready to go. If that's the case, Downie will likely slot back into the third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read while Michael Raffl drops back down to the fourth; if it's not and Downie's still out, Raffl presumably stays on the third line and Jay Rosehill probably plays.
We're not anticipating any other changes to the forward lines or defensive pairings from the last couple of games. Steve Mason is your starter in net, for the sixth straight game since the break ended (that's all of them), and after three straight iffy games from him, hopefully he can calm things down a bit now.
After all of the struggles the Flyers have had with the Devils in the playoffs two years ago and during the season last year, they'll have a chance to win the 2013-14 season series against them with a victory tonight, and get that much closer to the playoffs in the process. Get it done, boys.
7 p.m. start. Game thread up around 6. Go Flyers.