Monday, March 24, 2008

Flyers Playoff Push

The Flyers have won 3 in a row since the 7 - 1 debacle in Pittsburgh back on March 16th and find themselves on Easter Monday in sole possession of the 7th spot in the Eastern Conference. The next 8 days feature the Flyers playing on the road against each of their Atlantic Division rivals on a last chance power drive to the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the final two games at home.

How have their upcoming opponents been faring?

Tuesday, March 25th vs. New York Rangers (6th, Eastern Conference)

The Rangers have lost 3 of their last 5, including Good Friday's 4 - 3 shootout loss to the Flyers. The Rangers are a strange team in lots of ways. They are immensely talented, offensively, but their power play is 3 for 32 for the month of March, so far. Four of the Rangers' wins (as well as two of their losses) are by way of the shootout. Let's just say this is not a matchup the Flyers should be that scared of right now, considering the lack of success the Flyers have had against the Rangers this season.

I don't know if the Rangers can be considered a scary team to play against at this time, but as the games become more and more important, you wonder if Scott Gomez and Chris Drury will come to the fore and dominate as their pedigrees suggest.

Friday, March 28th vs. New Jersey Devils (4th, Eastern Conference)

It's very simple for the Flyers; if they beat the Devils in the next two games against them, it would do incalculable good for the collective psyche of the Flyers. The Devils are 4 - 1 against the Flyers this year, winning the last 4 games by a score of 17 - 5. Quite simply, the Devils have owned the Flyers this season and the Flyers play the Devils twice down the stretch. They will need to win at least one game against the Devils not only for their confidence, but for their playoff lives.

If the Flyers are going to steal a couple against the Devils, now may be the best time. The Devils have lost 4 of the last 6, losing last Saturday to Pittsburgh by a score of 7 - 1. Their offensive leader, Patrik Elias, has been day-to-day with the flu and has been nursing a bruised knee, but should be back when the two teams meet this Friday.

Saturday, March 29th vs. New York Islanders (13th, Eastern Conference)

The Flyers just beat the Islanders last night by a score of 4 - 1 and the Flyers have owned the Isles all season long. Furthermore, the Islanders, already out of the playoff chase, will be even further out of the chase by the time these two teams meet. The only potential issue with this game is that it is the tail-end of a pair of back-to-back games......the type of games that have given Martin Biron lots of trouble.

Wednesday, April 2nd vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd, Eastern Conference)

Pittsburgh, the leader in the Atlantic division right now, has won 7 of their last 10 games. They've done most of this damage without NHL cover boy Sidney Crosby, whose high ankle sprain is obviously far worse than anyone let on. It is thought that he could be back when the Pens play the Isles tonite.

The engine that has made the Penguin machine go lately has been the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and the play of Big Evgeni Malkin. Fleury has won his last 4 starts, giving up no more than two goals in any of the games and Malkin now has 102 points on the year, including a 2 goal, 2 assist effort against the Flyers in the last time the two teams matched up.

Obviously Pittsburgh is playing better than any other team in the Atlantic and will just get healthier with Crosby back in the fold. This team is my odds-on-favorite to come out of the Eastern Conference, because of the sheer volume of high-end offensive talent that they have with Crosby, Malkin, Marian Hossa, and the vastly underrated Petr Sykora.

While the Flyers did dominate the Pens early on this season, the last couple of games against the Pens have not gone well for the Flyers. While the Flyers have been decimated by injuries and without several players of late, I'm not sure it will matter as the Pens begin to kick it up a notch, with the playoffs around the corner.

To put the games against the Pens in some sort of perspective, I think the games against the Devils may show where the Flyers' head is going into the playoffs and the games against the Pens will show the Flyers where their heart is going into the playoff push. Don't forget Pens crushed the Flyers 7 - 1 in their last matchup in embarrassing fashion, so if the Flyers have a heartbeat, expect them to show it in the Pens games.

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