Flyers well-positioned to make push for wildcard spot

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Photo: Kate Frese/Flyerdelphia

A few weeks ago, at the start of the six-game homestand that concludes on Monday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, I said the Flyers needed at least nine of a potential 12 points in the six games to still be realistically alive in the playoff race. At minimum, they would need four wins.

Mission accomplished with Saturday's 6-0 drubbing of the Columbus Blue Jackets, their fourth win in five games on the homestand. 

The Flyers enter Monday and the days ahead in a unique and excellent position to contend for the final wildcard spot. There are two reasons for this.

One has to do with the three-day break the Flyers will get until they play again on Friday night in Tampa while Pittsburgh and Detroit rack up more games on their schedule. The second reason is the very last game the Flyers will play, and how if it really comes down to it, they may owe a snowstorm for their chance to make the playoffs.

Starting from the beginning, the Flyers have passed the first test. Those four wins, all against teams not in the playoffs at the time of meeting, were necessary, and while the loss to Edmonton on Thursday hurt, the Flyers at least managed the answer on Friday.

They will enter Monday now four points out of the playoffs and now chasing the Detroit Red Wings for that final spot.

The Red Wings will play twice more before the Flyers play again on Friday. By the time the two teams meet next Tuesday, March 15, for their first of two meetings remaining on the season, Detroit will have two games in hand.

Realistically, it doesn't matter if it's Detroit or Pittsburgh. With the margin at four on Detroit and five on Pittsburgh, the Flyers can pass both teams just by winning the remaining five games combined that they have against the Red Wings and Penguins. But the Flyers will get a chance to create separation or apply a little less pressure to those games by winning some of the others and seeing where Detroit and Pittsburgh go over the next few weeks.

The other game that stands out of the 18 games remaining on the schedule is the last one. The Flyers are one of four NHL teams that close their season on April 10, not April 9. That is only because Winter Storm Jonas snowed out the Flyers meeting with the New York Islanders in late January, setting up a potential final two points for the Flyers to earn over everyone else.

When you factor in that with the extra game at the end of the season, the Flyers will have a game in hand on almost everybody during the final week and meet Detroit once and Pittsburgh twice in the final five games of the season. If these are the three that duke it out, it's going to be a wild ride to the finish.

But it's having that path in front of them that makes the Flyers so well-positioned. They have a game in hand that they didn't previously have with the weather. They have several games against teams they are chasing in the standings. And again on Sunday, they were presented an opportunity to make the most of another team's misfortune.

If the Flyers can grab two points over Tampa Bay on Monday, they will close the gap in the standings to two. 

Monday is nothing new for the Flyers. It is just another must-win game. But, without thinking too far ahead of the task at hand, the Flyers should be able to at least see the path there and know the way the schedule shifts does play into their favor if they play as well as they have for much of the homestand.

Kevin Durso is managing editor for Flyerdelphia. Follow him on Twitter @Kevin_Durso.

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