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NHL playoff race: Flyers could clinch, be eliminated, or neither after Saturday's games

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For the first time this year, the Flyers enter a day of hockey knowing that they can clinch a playoff spot -- and also knowing that they could be eliminated from the race entirely. Here's what could happen.

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And we're here. The biggest day of the NHL season for the Philadelphia Flyers, who fought from the fringes of the playoff race to get into a very good position in the past couple of weeks only to now have that position be reduced to more or less a 50-50 shot at making the postseason. (And we wouldn't have it any other way.)

We reviewed the overall picture yesterday, so check there if you'd like to see the current standings and the numbers on what this team's playoff chances currently appear to be. In essence, it boils down to these three games:

Since those two games start a few hours earlier than the Flyers' game, the team should know where they stand in the playoff race right around puck drop.

With the Flyers currently one point behind Detroit and Boston with one extra game in hand on each (and guaranteed to lose out on tiebreakers to either one of them), here's what the outlook for them will be based on the early games.

  • If either or both of Detroit and Boston lose in regulation: The Flyers will need two points to clinch a playoff spot, meaning they can (and would) clinch a playoff spot today with a win over Pittsburgh and can not be eliminated from the race today with any sort of loss to Pittsburgh.
  • If both of Detroit and Boston win in any fashion: The Flyers will need four points to clinch a playoff spot, meaning they can not clinch a playoff spot today with a win over Pittsburgh and can (and would) be eliminated from the race today with any sort of loss to Pittsburgh.
  • If both Detroit and Boston get points, but one or both of them lose in overtime/a shootout: The Flyers will need three points to clinch a playoff spot, meaning they can not clinch a playoff spot today with a win over Pittsburgh and can (and would) be eliminated from the race today with a regulation loss to Pittsburgh. (An overtime/shootout loss would keep them alive.)

That is pretty much it. And yes, while there is some complexity to it all, let's not forget that, above all, the Flyers can make the playoffs if they win each of their two games this weekend -- today against Pittsburgh, and tomorrow night against the Islanders -- no matter what else happens. A tough task? For certain. But given the fight this team has shown over the last two months to get back into this race in the first place, I wouldn't let a week or so of struggles on the ice convince me that they can't do it. We'll find out soon enough.

Gamethread for Flyers/Pens will go up at 2. Feel free to use the comments on this post to discuss the early games until then.

Go Flyers.