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The playoff picture after four Flyer-less days

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East_2
standings as of Wednesday night's games

What happens when you don't play for four days? Every other team picks up games in hand. What happens when every other team already had games in hand? It means the Flyers are in a better position than it first appears.

Let's break this down team-by-team. We'll start at the bottom of the standings, after the jump since it's lengthy...

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  • The Penguins rebounded from a terrible all-around performance against the Red Wings on Sunday and notched an impressive shootout win over the Sharks at home on Wednesday night. They're off until Saturday when they face the Leafs in Toronto on Hockey Night in Canada.
  • Sergei Gonchar was cleared to play after missing the entire season so far, although he didn't suit up against San Jose. The Penguins hope that Gonchar's return can give them the boost they need to reach the playoffs.
  • They sit just one point behind eighth place Florida at the moment, but they've played three more games then the Panthers. That's a big deal, and they have to worry about leap frogging Carolina at the same time.
  • The Pens have played four more games than the Flyers and sit six points behind Philly.
  • Carolina is on a roll. 6-2 in their last eight, they've climbed to a point behind division rival Florida. They also beat the Sharks, 4-3 in San Jose last Thursday. They have a key game coming up tonight against Florida. A win will give them the 8th spot and put the Panthers on the outside looking in.
  • Again, though, those games in hand are important. Carolina has played 54 games while Florida has played 53. 
  • Two former Flyers are getting set to return from injury for the Hurricanes. According to 'Canes Country, Dennis Seidenberg and Rod Brind'Amour practiced on Tuesday.
  • The 'Canes are six points behind the Flyers and they've played two more games.

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  • Carolina is hot but the Panthers are matching them blow for blow. Florida is 10-3-3 in 2009 and they've shown no signs of cooling down.
  • Check out this goal by Richard Zednik.
  • Florida is the only team in the race close to the Flyers in terms of games played, but they've still got one more than Philly, 53 to 52. They sit five points back of the Flyers.

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  • The Sabres were breathing down our necks last week, but thanks to a home-and-home sweep at the hands of Ottawa, a small cushion formed between 7th-place Buffalo and the suddenly 4th-place Flyers.
  • Perhaps a crushing blow to Buffalo's playoff chances: leading goal scorer Thomas Vanek, one of the NHL's leading goal scorers in fact, is out for three to four weeks at a critical time of the year. Sabres fans are asking themselves if they can survive without him.
  • I like the guy they called up to replace Vanek. His name is Nathan Gerbe and he played for Boston College last season. He's got a ton of energy and he'll hit anything. 
  • The Sabres have played 55 games and sit three points back of the Flyers.
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  • Talk about a free fall. The Habs are 2-8-0 in their last 10 and they've lost four straight overall and seven straight on the road.
  • They're freaking out in French Canada. It's the 100th anniversary season of their beloved Canadiens, don't ya know. On TSN's Off the Record program yesterday, they discussed whether or not the Habs were in a slump, or if it was just a crisis. They determined that they would know a lot more about the situation following the game in Edmonton last night. Well, how's a 7-2 loss treat ya?
  • James Mirtle was a part of the panel on TSN yesterday, and people are now emailing him all kinds of crazy. From firing Guy Carbonneau to trading "all-star" Alex Kovalev, it's the apocalypse in Montreal.
  • It's all good news for the Flyers though, who by virtue of literally doing nothing, passed Montreal in the standings.
  • Montreal sits just a point back of the Flyers, but of course they've played three extra games. Who knows how far back they'll be if they can't get it turned around quickly.

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  • The Rangers are tied with the Flyers with 65 points, but they've got those three extra games played. 
  • They beat the Capitals last night in overtime, despite Mike Green's record-setting two goals, in a game they desperately needed to win. They had lost five straight coming in, including a 10-2 loss last Friday to the Stars. 
  • It's no surprise that the Rangers can't score -- their 140 goals is the worst number (by far) among Eastern playoff teams -- and if they can't get quality goaltending, they won't be playoff bound. They haven't gotten consistent goaltending lately.
  • Sean Avery has been sent to their AHL affiliate in Hartford. I sense desparation on Broadway...
  • A Flyer win at MSG Sunday afternoon would be HUGE. 

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Devils_red_medium

Washington and New Jersey are coasting ahead of the Flyers, and it's going to be really hard to catch them. They both sit at 73 points with 55 games played, so the Flyers can close the gap significantly if the take care of the games in hand, but they'd still need some help. Both teams have a striking question to answer.

Jose Theodore has been excellent recently for the Caps, but can he keep it up?

For the Devils, it's the goaltending as well. Scott Clemmensen has been unreal for New Jersey, but Martin Brodeur is returning soon. Can there be a seamless transition between the two? Brodeur clearly gets his job back when he returns, but what happens if he falters? It's a touchy situation, I'm sure.

Overall, things do look good for the Flyers to make the playoffs quite easily, barring a 10 game losing streak like last season. I understand it's risky saying that when a team is just six points deep into the playoff picture, but there are so many teams behind the Flyers right now that it seems far fetched they'd fall so far. EDIT: It's about a 94.3% certainty, apparently. It's a matter of position at this point, basically, barring a long losing stretch.

The final position is going to come down to these games in hand. It seems like we've had them over everybody all season. It'll come down to March, when the Flyers play 15 games in 29 days.