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Flyers, revamped Blue Jackets meet with playoff implications starting to take shape

Matt Duchene on a playoff team? In this economy?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As the Flyers inch ever closer to a playoff spot with each passing week, a massive weekend road trip looms with three games in four days that could very well make or break their playoff hopes.

Up first is a visit to face the revamped Blue Jackets, who added Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel before the trade deadline to try and bolster their playoff chances. Making the playoff is imperative for the Blue Jackets, who will watch stars Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky go to free agency this summer. Columbus finds themselves just a point out of a playoff spot, but has played one fewer game than both the Penguins and Hurricanes. Carolina holds the third seed in the Metropolitan Division while the Penguins occupy the second wild card slot.

Sitting six points behind the Blue Jackets are the Flyers, riding a 15-4-1 mark in their last 20 games to vault themselves into the playoff picture when it seemed laughable just before the calendar turned to 2019.

Claude Giroux’s overtime goal capped a furious rally for the Flyers in the Stadium Series game last Saturday and the club followed it up with a convincing 5-2 win over fellow playoff chaser Buffalo on Tuesday night. The Flyers never trailed in that one, getting outstanding goaltending from Brian Elliott (34 saves on 36 shots) once again with rookie phenom Carter Hart sitting out due to an ankle injury. Elliott will look for a third-straight win when he takes on the Blue Jackets from Columbus, a team he’s gone 6-3-2 against in his career with a .916 save percentage and a 2.26 goals-against average.

It will be a different looking Blue Jackets squad that the Flyers have gone 0-2-1 against this year, though John Tortorella’s team might be better than ever —at least on paper— with the additions of Duchene, Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid. Columbus has won two of their first three since adding Duchene, but did suffer a 5-2 setback at home to the Penguins on Tuesday night. They’ll be eager to respond right back on home ice with expectations high and a team behind them in the standings coming to town.

Both teams are playing good hockey and the added desperation for both to gain ground in the playoff race should make this a playoff-like atmosphere inside Nationwide Arena.

Three things

Contain Cam Atkinson

While Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois aren’t anything to sneeze at, it seems like Atkinson is the biggest thorn in the Flyers’ side recently. The former Boston College star has tormented the Flyers with 13 goals in 25 games in his career and he’s already added four goals in three games this season. The Flyers can’t afford to get in a shootout with the Blue Jackets, and Atkinson seems to be at the forefront when things go haywire for Philadelphia against Columbus.

It’s no secret that Atkinson’s speed and ability to stretch a defense would give most teams fits, but in particular the Flyers tend to be able to be beaten with seam passes and this guy has lived off them in these games. The good news is that the Flyers’ defense was better against the Sabres after getting Radko Gudas back from his two-game suspension, and will also have Phil Myers in the lineup again as a big body who should be able to close down some gaps. There will also be no Andrew MacDonald, an instant boon with the veteran sitting (finally) as a healthy scratch.

It won’t be easy, but if the Flyers can slow down Atkinson in this one they’ll have a real good chance to steal one on the road.

Make life tough on Bob early

Part of the reason that the Blue Jackets are going all-in is that they really are better than their record indicates. They’re deep at forward and on defense, but have seen things come back to the median due to awful goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo. The tandem has just a .904 save percentage and a 2.86 goals-against average this season.

Tortorella and Bob haven’t gotten along all that well in the goaltender’s walk season, and the former Flyers netminder has been pulled a startling amount of times. That said, he’s won seven of his last 10 with three shutouts and is starting to finally look like the goalie we’ve come to expect throughout his career.

Though he’s picked things up recently, he can be prone to lapses early in games and was quickly down 3-0 after 22 minutes in a massive game against Pittsburgh last time out. Even at his best Bob can struggle with controlling rebounds and staying on his angles, the Flyers would be wise to keep the rubber coming at him early and often tonight to try and pounce on second chance opportunities. They also have the big bodies willing to pay the price to park in front of him and reap the benefits of those second chances with Oskar Lindblom and James van Riemsdyk both showing the willingness to do so just the other night against Buffalo.

Moose is loose

If you had Brian Elliott starting meaningful games down the stretch during a playoff push after everything that’s happened in the Flyers crease this season raise your hand.

Since essentially being left for dead after another long-term injury, the emergence of Carter Hart, AND the trade for Cam Talbot, all Elliott has done is stop 125 of 133 shots fired at him in the four games since returning from injury. Mind you the Moose hadn’t played since mid-November, but yet here he is about to start his third-straight game while new the acquisition in Talbot waits for his turn in New Jersey on Friday.

It really hasn’t mattered who has been in goal for the Flyers since the calendar turned to 2019 as Hart, Anthony Stolarz, and Elliott have all played well behind a team that really hasn’t (46.8 Corsi For %). While Elliott has been great since returning, he’s going to need to be excellent again on the road with the Blue Jackets likely fired up after laying an egg against the rival Penguins last time out.

Flyers Projected Lineup


Giroux — Patrick — Konecny

Piano Man — Gerald — Voracek

JVR — Laughton — Hartman

Raffl — Knight — Varone


Provorov — Sanheim

Gostisbehere — Myers

Hagg — Gudas