Who would’ve thought, way back in December, that we’d be looking at potential playoff matchups? What a time.
Through 41 games, the official half-way mark of the season, on January 2nd after a loss to the Golden Knights, the Flyers sat at 49 points, barely clinging on to the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Currently, through 67 games, the Flyers now sit atop the Metropolitan Division, tied in points with the Washington Capitals, and 9 points above the New York Islanders who hold the WC2 spot. The Flyers would hold sole possession of first place in the Metro had it not been for an overtime point gained by the Capitals last night.
I don’t need to state how momentous of a shift this team has undertaken in the past few weeks, the eye test (and this current eight game winning streak) speaks for itself. It has reached the point where instead of discussing if the Flyers will make the playoffs, it’s where the Flyers will play in the first round. The conversation has shifted now to garnering home ice advantage, which the Flyers have not had since 2011.
The Flyers are riding into the last stretch of the regular season as perhaps the hottest team in the league, and one cannot imagine that their potential opponents would be looking forward to that matchup. This being said, the playoff picture is starting to take shape, and we will soon be getting a fairly good idea of who the Flyers could be facing. With this in mind, let’s take a look into all these matchups that the Flyers could face in the first round.
This matchup is perhaps the most unlikely of the more likely possibilities, since it would require either the Capitals or Flyers slipping into the third Metro division spot. As it stands at the moment, it is a two horse race between the Capitals and Flyers for the top spot, with the Penguins creeping behind in third place. However, should the Penguins surge and the Capitals spin into a rut, we could very well see a Philly-D.C. rivalry series.
As you may remember, the last time these two franchises squared off in a playoff series was in 2015-16, also known as the ‘Gostisbehere revelation’ season. However, despite Ghost’s heroics to get the Flyers into the playoffs, they were eliminated by Washington in six games. The series was characterized by a lot of power-play goals by the Capitals, to the point where if the Flyers took a penalty, you knew they were going to get scored on.
However, this year has been vastly different. On the season series, the Flyers hold a 3-1 advantage, with the one loss coming in overtime. Though, perhaps a more telling statistic is that the Flyers have held Alex Ovechkin pointless in all four of those games.
Suffice to say, I favor the Flyers in this matchup, especially coming off of multiple 5+ goal thrashings of the Capitals (7-2 in February and 5-2 a few days ago).
If the season ended today, the Penguins would be who the Flyers face in round one. Though Pittsburgh have one game in hand, they currently sit three points behind the Flyers, which means unlike in 2017-18, the Flyers would have home ice advantage.
Speaking of 2017-18, that was indeed the last time that we saw a Keystone state series, with the Penguins coming out on top in six games. This series is best remembered by either team thrashing the other in alternating games until the Penguins finally got a hold on things. This was also the series in which on a torn MCL, Sean Couturier scored a hat trick.
That year, the Penguins swept the regular season series from the Flyers, however, in 2019-20, the Flyers have won, lost, and lost in OT against the Penguins as they continue to be a thorn in the side of the Orange and Black. With one more game left against Pittsburgh, it has yet to be seen whether or not the Flyers will draw the season series or fall behind.
The Penguins’ uncanny ability to take their game to a next level around this time of the season, combined with the dual threat of Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, could be worrisome. For whatever reason, the Penguins always seen to get simple dumb luck, or unreal efforts from AHL players who play on Crosby’s line.
However, this time around, the Flyers are a more mature team with a hot hand. This series will be close, but with home ice (if that is indeed the case), the Flyers odds could be much improved.
There’s a considerable gap right now between the top three spots in the Metro division, and between the wild card contenders. It’s unlikely that the Flyers would face Columbus in a M2 v M3 matchup, but this could very well be a M1 v WC1 matchup (the Bruins will almost certainly be the top seed in the East so the Flyers can only play the WC1).
This is where a previous playoff history section would go, however, the Flyers have never played Columbus in a playoff series! To be fair, the Blue Jackets have only been a franchise for twenty years, and have been suboptimal for a majority of that time, so it is understandable that they have never squared off in the postseason.
On the season series, the Flyers swept Columbus, outscoring them 19 to 10 in the process. If they manage to sneak into the playoffs, due to the massive injuries that have plagued them as of late, the Flyers can make quick work of the Jackets. That being said, they swept the Tampa Bay Lightning last yearr. But now, without the likes of Artemi Panarin, and their current star players, this year is certainly very different.
New York Islanders
It would be extremely Islanders of the New York Islanders to leapfrog the Blue Jackets to move into the WC1 spot, especially given the Barry Trotz-fueled magic that the Islanders seem to pull out of a proverbial hat. If the Flyers end up winning the division, this would set up a matchup with the Long Island/Brooklyn club that we haven’t seen since 1986-87, when the Flyers bested them in seven games to set up a Wales Conference (now Eastern Conference) final with the Montreal Canadiens. Of course, that was a year in which the Flyers yet again faced Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers. The 87’ Stanley Cup Final has been considered by many to be one of the best in NHL history, and though the Oilers won it in seven games, Ron Hetxall was named winner of the Conn Smythe trophy.
Of course, it has been more than thirty years since that time, and an entire few decades worth of players have come and gone. Now, the Islanders pose an interesting challenge. They have a few young, exciting players like the mercurial Mat Barzal, and a suspect defense that somehow manages to perform adequately despite poor play-driving metrics.
The Islanders have proven to be a tough team for the Flyers, as they have lost all three games played so far, twice in regulation and once in the shootout. They’ll have to win against them at home on the 24th of March to avoid a series sweep. Just by the luck that the Islanders get alone, the hope is that the Flyers won’t face them — even if they seem up to the challenge right now. If they do play each other, it will yet to be determined whether or not the Trotz magic will continue or run dry.
Unlikely but possible matchups:
All three of the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Florida Panthers are currently on the outside looking in with regards to the Eastern Conference playoff picture. For these three clubs, it is very unlikely that the Flyers would play them, since the most likely spot would be WC2, setting up a grueling matchup with the Boston Bruins.
However, if they by chance do manage to steal the WC1 spot, there is little doubt that the Flyers should handily take care of all three clubs. The Flyers are a combined 8-2 against these three teams, and in the past few weeks alone have proven their superiority to them in resounding victories.
In particular, against the Rangers, the Flyers have outscored them 15 to 6 in their three games played (all victories). The Flyers have just beat up these teams as of late, and given the state of the three’s goaltending (Bobrovsky has been bad, Carolina has no NHLers, and the Rangers’ goalies have played poorly against the Flyers) the edge can reasonably be given to the Flyers.