With the Devils' loss last night to the Calgary Flames, the Philadelphia Flyers will have the chance to grab a playoff spot in tonight's game against the Florida Panthers. Pretty crazy stuff considering that everyone was losing their frickin' minds about a losing streak not too long ago. Maybe now everyone can admit that the freaking out was a bit premature? [Ed. note: Duh.]
Much like the Buffalo Sabres, the Florida Panthers are not a very good hockey team. This is a scorchingly hot take, I know. The Panthers are 29th in the league and are certainly not thinking about the off-season. Unless you count dreaming about the draft lottery. I dunno. Still, they haven't stopped putting forth all the effort they can muster and they seem determined to close the season out on a good note.
In their last game, the Panthers upset the Dallas Stars in heartbreaking fashion, coming back from a two goal deficit and winning 3-2. Despite being outshot by a wide margin and despite being down a goal within the first minute of play, the Panthers won. It all came back to trade deadline acquisition Roberto Luongo, who made 35 saves on the night. (The win also kept the Canucks slim playoff hopes alive for a brief period, which, lol. You can't escape him, Vancouver.)
Outside of their game against the Stars, though, the Panthers have had major troubles, scoring and otherwise. They've been playing with a weak forward core, missing a few key players such as Jonathan Huberdeau and rookie Aleksander Barkov. Barkov skated for the first time Friday since his knee injury way back on February 24th, but isn't expected to return for the remainder of the season. I mean, really, what's the point? Huberdeau, on the other hand, was recently cleared for contact and will make his return against the Flyers.
In Flyers injury news, Steve Downie will rejoin the lineup in tonight's contest. Downie has missed the last eight games due to a concussion. He'll be back on the third line, meaning that Raffl will most likely cycle down to the fourth again, thanks to Zac Rinaldo's suspension.
As for goaltenders, Steve Mason and Roberto Luongo are expected to get the starts tonight. Luongo has been pretty dang good in Florida so far. In his twelve games played, he's posted a .926 save percentage. Tonight will mark his third start in a row. On the other side, Mason's performance in Buffalo was good enough for the win. He didn't face a lot of shots, just 19 on the night, but still...a win's a win!
Tonight's game has all of the makings of a great one. Not only are the Flyers playing the Panthers, but if they take the two points, the Flyers will be going to playoffs. Seriously. That is crazy and amazing and so, so fun to type.
After Sunday's game against the Sabres, it's obvious that 1) the Flyers have no intentions of taking it easy on teams who are far out of contention and 2) they're going into games expecting them to be hard-fought. As it should be.
By the end of tonight, I hope I'm able to say that I'm looking forward to playoffs. Go Flyers.