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Can the Flyers really catch the Devils?

Tonight is a pivotal night in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston, Florida, Buffalo, New Jersey, Washington, the Flyers, Pittsburgh, Montreal, the Rangers, and Carolina are all in action this evening. The standings look close, with teams seemingly right behind the Flyers for that ever-important home ice edge.

But the Philadelphia attitude (or maybe it's just my attitude, but nevertheless) doesn't seem all that concerned about the teams behind us. Is it because our team has dominated opponents in two straight games? Is it because we have played less games than every other team, and we're still in a more favorable position?

The answer is probably a combination, but for whatever reason, we seem to be looking ahead at the teams in front of us, rather than looking in that rearview mirror.

So, the question has to be asked, can the Flyers catch the New Jersey Devils and win the Atlantic Division?

Atlantic Standings

New Jersey 66 43 20 3 89
Philadelphia 65 36 19 10 82
Pittsburgh 68 36 26 6 78
New York Rangers 67 34 25 8 76
New York Islanders 67 22 37 8 52

(updated 3.12.2009 at 9:26 AM EDT)

As mentioned in a FanPost by Shagg, the Flyers sit seven points behind NJ with one game in hand. He also concluded that the difference between the two teams, as it presently stands, is seven shootout losses that could've been Flyer wins. If the Flyers picked up the extra point in the shootout a few more times, they're right there with Jersey.

But of course, Philly perennially sucks at the shootout, so we have to deal with the consequences. The question still stands, though. Even without the shootout wins and the extra points, can the Flyers catch the Devils?

There are five weeks left in the season. Let's break it down, week by week, after the jump.

Devils1_medium Flyers1_medium

That game in hand is made up on Sunday. This weekends games against the Rangers are absolutely crucial. For one, two Flyers wins could put the Rangers in a really tough position, which would obviously be great for us. But if the Flyers are to sweep these three games, which with the way they've played Washington this season is totally possible, and the Devils are to go 1-1, that lead gets trimmed from seven points to just three with two games in hand. If the Devils win both games it's still a five point NJ lead. Moving forward though, let's go with the three point lead thing.

Devils2_medium Flyers2_medium

This is a huge week right here. First off, Jersey regains that game in hand, so it's even more important that the Flyers take care of their own business. But that's not going to be easy. Detroit is a powerhouse, obviously, and they've only lost five games at home all season. Buffalo isn't a definite win but it's obviously possible, and the Pittsburgh game is absoutely huge. If you haven't noticed, they're right on our heels. It could be a must-win at that point. If Jersey goes 3-1 and the Flyers go 2-1, we're at a five point NJ lead with a game in hand. That's progress.

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The Flyers absoultely, positively must win the head-to-head game. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about that one. It's going to be tough though as its the second game of a back-to-back. This week is flat out tough. Florida is right in the thick of things, and Boston obviously is tough. The Islanders have even been upset artists as of late. Let's say that the Flyers go 2-2, but one of those wins is against the Devils. If the Devils go 1-1 in their other games that week, the Flyers will sit three points back with the same number of games played.

Devils4_medium Flyers4_medium

On the surface, this looks like an easy week for the Flyers. They need to play it like it looks. Three wins here are necessary. If you can't beat the teams you're supposed to down the stretch, you don't deserve first place. Plain and simple. So let's say the Flyers go 3-0. They'd have 102 points and 77 games played. NJ beats the Rangers, Tampa, and Buffalo. They'd have 105 points in 78 games, heading into the final week.

Devils5_medium Flyers5_medium

Unfortunately for us, the Devils have a relatively easy final week. Let's say they beat Toronto and Ottawa and lose to Carolina, who will likely be fighting hard. That would finish NJ with 109 points. For the Flyers to beat that, they'd have to win out in the final four games.

Of course, I didn't include any overtime games in this. That's been the gapper between these two teams up until now, and it could decide it the rest of the way. What this does prove though is that the Flyers need to start gaining on New Jersey right now. It starts tonight. If they want first place, there can be no more slip ups from here on out.