We've talked a fair bit about the difficulty of the Flyers' schedule the rest of the way. The Flyers managed to pick up seven out of 12 possible points in the six games before things got real tough, and fortunately that's been enough for them to hang onto the final playoff spot in the East for the time being.
Getting more than half of the points they can get in the rest of March, though? Bit taller of a task.
Let's talk about the nine games left before we flip the calendar to April, and then try and guess how many wins and points they'll need -- and how many they'll actually get.
Saturday, March 15: Flyers vs. Penguins
It all begins with the most familiar of Flyers opponents, as the orange and black will play their first game in about four months against their cross-state rivals on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.
We talked a fair bit about the Penguins on Monday night's episode of BSH Radio, and we all more or less reached the same conclusions: they're a team that's got more issues than usual this year (i.e. their lack of forward depth has been on display, their defense getting gutted by injuries), but there's a reason that they're still sitting atop the Eastern Conference. They're very good.
Even though we know anything can happen in these games, it ain't going to be easy to get a win no matter what. Pittsburgh knows the Flyers' precarious position in the standings and I'm sure they'd love to try and knock the Flyers out of a playoff spot. Fortunately, we know that if there are any games the Flyers can get up for, it's these.
Sunday, March 16: Flyers at Penguins
Yeah ... so let's just take everything said above and apply it here, except with the Flyers on the road. Given how important getting the right matchups against the Pens has been for the Flyers in the past couple of seasons, getting the win will no doubt be a bit tougher.
On the other hand, we all know that CONSOL Energy Center has generally treated the Flyers well over the years. Plus, this is where you maybe hope that the advantage the Flyers have in their forward depth (i.e. in their bottom-six) over the Penguins will make a difference.
Tuesday, March 18: Flyers vs. Blackhawks
The Flyers and the reigning Stanley Cup champions played once already this season back in December, when a decent first period for Philly quickly turned into a nightmarish second and ultimately a 7-2 rout. In this one, we'll get a chance to see what kind of progress the Flyers have made in the three months since that game. The Blackhawks, to the surprise of no one, are still one of the best teams in hockey in almost every measurable way, and as anyone could guess they'll be a tough out.
Thursday, March 20: Flyers vs. Stars
One of the West's upstart teams this season, the Stars have been trending in the right direction for a couple of months now, and they're a likely playoff team this year. They clowned the Flyers in a 5-1 December win in Dallas where Tyler Seguin scored a natural hat trick, and with their speed they won't be an easy matchup for this Flyers team. We'll see if the Flyers are more ready and well-prepared this time around.
Saturday, March 22: Flyers vs. Blues
Been having fun with this schedule so far?
Well, in case you haven't, next Saturday will see the Flyers play their first game of the year against the team that currently sits atop the NHL standings. There's pretty much nothing that the St. Louis Blues don't do well, from scoring to possession to defense, and oh by the way they added one of the best goaltenders in the NHL at the trade deadline in Ryan Miller. He finally lost his first game with the Blues Tuesday night after four straight wins.
They're a very, very difficult team to get much going against, and the Flyers will need to be totally on point to have any chance at a win here.
Monday, March 24: Flyers vs. Kings
And then, two days later, they face a team that's a lot like the Blues in a few ways. The Flyers, of course, are all too familiar with the Kings, what with half of them being former Flyers and all. The teams played right before the Olympic break, with the Flyers picking up a 2-0 win despite getting roundly outplayed and out-possessed for almost the entire game. Steve Mason, Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds pretty much single-handedly willed the Flyers to a win that day. Of course, that was while the Kings were stuck in a nasty scoring slump, and they've been on fire since the break ended. So this probably won't be any easier. Of note, this will also be Jeff Carter's first game back at the Wells Fargo Center since getting traded away three years ago.
Wednesday, March 26: Flyers at Rangers
And then, after a four-game stretch against four of the West's better teams, the Flyers head back to the Eastern Conference for a few contests. This will be the fourth and final game of the season between these two teams, and though the Flyers have won two of those first three, a win in Madison Square Garden (where the Flyers have lost seven straight games by a combined score of 28-8) will probably be one of the toughest games on this trip. Solving Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers around this time of year has never been easy for the Flyers, and with the acquisition of Martin St. Louis at the trade deadline, they'll have even more scoring punch than they usually do.
Friday, March 28: Flyers vs. Maple Leafs
Here's a sad and terrifying thought: Toronto -- who has beaten the Flyers twice this year, and sits in third place in the Eastern Conference right now -- might be the worst team that the Flyers will face during this nine-game stretch. Yet against all odds, they keep winning games, and with their goaltending and ability to strike quickly they're going to be a tough out in a rare Friday night game for the Flyers.
Sunday, March 30: Flyers vs. Bruins
The final game of the month is a template for a game that's typically gone so well for the Flyers over the past few years: the weekend afternoon game against the Bruins. Y'know, like this one back in January, or this one in March of last year, or these two from early 2012, or this one in December 2011 ... you get the idea. On the other hand, eerily enough, the Flyers played an afternoon game against the Bruins on March 30 of last year and managed to come away with a 2-1 win. So who knows and all. But yeah, you're familiar with the Bruins by now: they're really good at shutting everything down and beating you with that enviable combination of toughness, speed and skill. The Flyers will need to bring all of those things to win.
Truthfully, it doesn't get any easier after that final game -- the Flyers head to St. Louis when April begins to face the Blues again, they get the surging Blue Jackets in Philly two days later, and then face the Bruins in Boston, before finally getting a little bit of a reprieve with games against the Sabres and Panthers. But we'll just stick with the rest of the month for now.
It's nice that, of these nine games, seven of them are at home. The Flyers have generally played much better at home this year than they have on the road, and last change and the ability to dictate matchups should make a non-negligible difference. But man, even with that edge, they're going to need all the help they can get.
So how many points do they need in these nine games? Well, we've estimated that it'll take around 92 points to get into the playoffs. They'll have eight more games after these nine, and let's guess that (based on their current point pace this year) they'll get around nine points in those eight games.
If they do that, that means that to get to 92 total points the Flyers will probably need around ten points on this stretch. That's a really, really tall order -- one that would likely require five wins, or four wins and at least two overtime losses. No easy task against this gauntlet of a schedule.
Nine games. 18 possible points on the line. How many do the Flyers get?