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NHL playoff race: Red Wings loss sets up huge contest for Flyers on Tuesday night

With the Flyers getting some unexpected help from the NHL's 30th-ranked team on Sunday night, the Flyers' game on Tuesday night against eighth-seeded Detroit looms larger than ever.

If you think that kid was mad about losing to the Flyers, imagine how he feels about losing to the Leafs.
If you think that kid was mad about losing to the Flyers, imagine how he feels about losing to the Leafs.
Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a frustrating shootout loss last night in Sunrise, the Flyers' trip down to Tampa has to be considered a success in the team's playoff hopes. To face two teams that are comfortably in playoff spots, on the road, on back-to-back nights, and to come away with three out of a four possible points is certainly a successful weekend, and it's allowed them to keep pace with the teams just ahead of them (and keep distance with the teams behind them) in the race for the East's final two playoff spots.

Up until tonight, though, the Flyers' closest opponents in the standings -- as of now, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings -- had also been having pretty good weekends. On Friday, the Penguins got two points by way of defeating the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets in Ohio. Then, the New York Rangers unsurprisingly ended up being useless turds, as they coughed up a last-minute lead en route to a loss in Detroit on Saturday and then got lit up defensively against Pittsburgh in a loss on Sunday.

As it was, the Flyers were staring down the possibility of losing ground in the playoff chase despite picking up three out of a possible four points -- certainly a tough break for a team that's going to need every point it can get if it wants to sneak into a playoff spot.

However, on Sunday night, the Flyers managed to receive some help from the most unlikely of sources. Quite literally the most unlikely, in fact: the Toronto Maple Leafs, who entered today a full six points behind the NHL's 29th-ranked team in the standings, rolled into Joe Louis Arena in Detroit and took out the Red Wings 1-0. Those are two points that you have to think Detroit was expecting to get, and the fact that they missed out on them is excellent news for the Flyers' hopes.

So where exactly does the team stand with Sunday's games in the rearview mirror? Here's how things look in the chase for the East's final two spots with the weekend behind us:

(Rank) Team Points Games Remaining ROW Remaining Strength of Schedule (Points %) Playoff Teams Left On Schedule Back-To-Backs Left On Schedule
(7) Pittsburgh 80 14 34 59.1% 7 3
(8) Detroit 79 13 32 54.5% 6 3
(9) Philadelphia 76 15 30 56.0% 9 5
(10) Carolina 74 13 30 56.9% 8 1

Courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy's excellent hockeyviz.com site, the Flyers entered Sunday with almost exactly a 50/50 shot at a playoff berth. All three games on the docket figured to factor in to the team's odds, though some are obviously more important than others.

Both the Penguins and Lightning's wins put slight dents into the Flyers' hopes, but Toronto picking up a regulation win -- keeping Detroit from picking up any points in the process -- more than made up for it.

If you believe the results of those simulations, the Wings' loss bumped the team's chances up by about four percentage points. That washes out the hits they took from wins by Pittsburgh (two percent) and Tampa Bay (one percent). This would leave the Flyers at around a 51 percent chance at a playoff spot -- not much changed from the beginning of the day, but positive movement regardless.

More importantly, the Leafs' win sets up the Flyers for their biggest game of the season on Tuesday, when they'll welcome the Red Wings themselves to the Wells Fargo Center for the first (and last) time this season.

The Flyers can't catch the Red Wings in one game, with Detroit being three points ahead at the moment. But if the Flyers can get a regulation win over the Wings, they'll be just one point back with two whole games in hand -- certainly a good situation to be in.

A regulation loss, though? While not crippling, it'd be a big hit to the team's hopes. They'd sit five points back of the Wings, and even with two games in hand, they'd still have much less control over their own fate, and would likely need the Wings to slip up somewhere along the way to have a good shot.

In short, this should come as no surprise, but the ramifications of Tuesday night's game are enormous, and tonight's Red Wings loss just makes the potential reward of a Flyers win even greater. Just win. Go Flyers.