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NHL playoff race: What needs to happen for the Flyers to make the playoffs?

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Last night's action put a dent in the Flyers' postseason hopes, but a playoff berth is certainly still possible as we head into the final weekend of the season. Let's look at what needs to happen.

Positivity. Good vibes. Let's do this.
Positivity. Good vibes. Let's do this.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight day, we open up this post with an acknowledgement that the Flyers wasted a golden opportunity last night. Against the worst team in the NHL, this late in the season, it's a situation in which you just really, really need two points. The Flyers didn't get two points, and that is not a good sign.

However! They did get one point, thanks to some last-minute heroics from one Wayne Simmonds. And with that point, against all odds, the Flyers' playoff hopes are not only still alive, but are in their own hands as we head into the final three days of the season.

It's by no means a great situation for them to be in. They've fallen from a near-lock at this time a week ago to approximately a coin-flip chance today. But that's what we're looking at now.

So with three days and four relevant games left on the schedule, let's break down what's left of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

What happened last night?

  • Flyers lost and it made us sad.
  • The Bruins won, which of course means that the Red Wings lost. Yes, Detroit turned around from their thumping of the Flyers on Wednesday night and received a thumping of their own in a game the Flyers needed them to win, because that is how sports tend to work when you're from Philadelphia and have a rooting interest in them. Boston jumped out to an early lead and never really looked back in a 5-2 victory. It is not what the Flyers were hoping for in this game, though they were helped at least a bit by it not going into overtime.

How things look now:

Here's where the Eastern Conference playoff picture stands with yesterday's games accounted for.

(Standing) Team Points ROW Games Remaining (Points % Of Opponent) Back-To-Backs Left On Schedule Magic Number
(A3) Detroit 93 39 @NYR (61.1%) 0 4
(W2) Boston 93 38 OTT (51.2%) 0 4
(W3) Philadelphia 92 36 PIT (64.2%), @NYI (61.9%) 1 n/a

Technically, the Flyers would currently be in ninth place/the third wild card right now even if they'd won last night because of tiebreakers, though it'd be a slightly less precarious ninth place than the one they're currently in. But in any case, that's where they are now.

Chances:

(Standing) Team Odds (SportsClubStats) Odds (hockey-reference) Odds (Hockeyviz) Odds (Moneypuck)
(A3) Detroit 74.0% (-11.1%) 76.7% (-10.7%) 76% (-13%) 76.77% (-11.74%)
(W2) Boston 75.6% (+20.9%) 68.3% (+19.5%) 68% (+22%) 67.98% (+20.6%)
(W3) Philadelphia 50.4% (-9.7%) 55.0% (-8.8%) 57% (-8%) 55.25% (-8.87%)

Yes, it's now the Flyers who sit with the worst odds of any team in the table. Then again, they were at the top of this table two days ago, and we all saw how quickly that changed. So hope is certainly still alive.

With that, let's review what exactly needs to happen for the Flyers to make the playoffs, and then you can decide how likely it is from there.

Games that matter:

There are four hockey games that matter in the remainder of the 2015-16 NHL regular season. (None of them are tonight, by the way.) Here they are, listed in chronological order.

  • Ottawa @ Boston, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET: Boston is the one team here without total control of their playoff fate, as they can't outright clinch a playoff spot by winning every game remaining on its schedule (which, for them, is just this game). But a win against the Senators on Saturday means they would make the playoffs with a loss of any kind by Philadelphia or Detroit in any of their weekend games. Ottawa's put up some decent fights down the stretch even though they've been out of the playoff race for a while, and this game is Erik Karlsson's last chance to make an impression on the Norris Trophy voters. So an Ottawa win would not be out of the question. But the Bruins have played pretty good hockey themselves this week, and they're the home team. They are certainly the favorites here.
  • Detroit @ NY Rangers, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET: The Red Wings currently sit atop the standings amongst these three teams in question, and they're guaranteed a playoff spot with a regulation or overtime win against the Rangers in this game. (They'd need a little bit of help in the event of a shootout win, and a fair bit of help in the event of a loss.) How much will the Rangers bring in this one? That's a fair question. They've dropped all the way to the first wild card spot in the East, which doesn't sound great ... until you remember that this means they've moved from facing the Penguins in the first round to moving over to the Atlantic bracket for the first two rounds of the playoffs. They would, at least temporarily, move back into that third seed in the Metropolitan with a win, but it wouldn't be too surprising to see them take it easy and rest some guys on Saturday. This one could really depend on how much the Rangers actually try to win. No, I don't love rooting for the Rangers on the final weekend of the season either, but we do crazy things in the name of love, I guess.
  • Pittsburgh @ Philadelphia, Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET: This game will likely either be an elimination game or a win-and-in game for the Flyers, depending on what happens in those earlier games. And that's a scary thought for the orange and black right now, isn't it? You've watched the Flyers play the Penguins this year. You already know this is going to be a rather difficult one to win. And forget the fact that Pittsburgh is locked into its playoff positioning and has nothing to formally play for -- they may rest some players who are banged up, but their guys on the ice are absolutely going to be going all-in to keep the Flyers out of the playoffs. Whatever the Flyers have left in them is going to have to go into this game.
  • Philadelphia @ NY Islanders, Sunday, 7:00 p.m. ET: Depending on how Saturday's games go, this one could be completely meaningless for the Flyers in either a good or bad way. It could also be a game where the Flyers need at least one or maybe even two points to get into the playoffs. We'll see. If it does come down to this game, it's worth noting that the Flyers have played the Islanders pretty well this year, and that the Islanders have nothing to play for -- much like the Rangers as described above, they may actually be better off losing this game to try and fall back into the first wild card spot. Let's hope this isn't the last game the Flyers will play this season.

What needs to happen for the Flyers to get into the playoffs?

Yes, let's just cut to the chase here. Since the Red Wings' and Bruins' final games will be just about finished by the time the Flyers drop the puck on Saturday, we'll frame this in terms of what happens in those first two games.

  • If either of Detroit or Boston loses in regulation: The Flyers will need two points in their last two games to make the playoffs.
  • If Detroit and Boston both pick up points, but one of them loses in overtime or a shootout: The Flyers will need three points in their last two games to make the playoffs.
  • If Detroit and Boston both win: The Flyers will need to win both of their last two games to make the playoffs.
Simple as that, really. It sucks that it's come to this. It really does. But this team can make the playoffs by winning two games in the final two days of the season no matter what happens elsewhere, and with a little bit of help they may not even need that. I think most of us would have signed up for this as a final weekend of the season back in October. Let's go.