Playoff Watch: A Saturday with huge implications for Flyers, others in playoff race

If you've been following the Flyers possible run to the playoffs and the drama unfolding night after night, then you know how things have become in the Eastern Conference.

It is an absolutely logjam, a lot of teams separated by not a lot of points.

Let's get you caught up.

The Washington Capitals sit comfortably in first with 111 points, having clinched the top spot in the East. They are the only Eastern Conference team locked into the playoffs at the moment. 

After that, the New York Rangers sit in second in the Metropolitan Division with 92 points.

Behind them, seven teams are jousting for the final six playoff spots, all separated by six points or less. 

The Atlantic Division has proven to be an interesting race. The Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Boston Bruins were all within two points of each other a week ago. That race has turned into more of a two-team battle, as Florida and Tampa sit tied atop the Atlantic with 91 points. Boston has slipped recently and has 86 points, still good enough for third in the Atlantic.

The Pittsburgh Penguins sit in third in the Metro with 88 points, but there is nothing comfortable about their position. The New York Islanders, who actually lost on Friday night in a game in hand on Pittsburgh, are just one point behind the third spot, holding the first wildcard spot. 

The Flyers hold the second wildcard spot with 85 points and again are anything but comfortable. The Detroit Red Wings also have 85 points in one more game played than the Flyers, which for the moment gives the Flyers the edge. 

All nine teams are in action on Saturday at some point. Here's the schedule:

  • Flyers at Arizona Coyotes – 10 p.m.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings – 2 p.m.
  • Boston Bruins at Toronto Maple Leafs – 7 p.m.
  • New York Rangers at Montreal Canadiens – 7 p.m.
  • Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning – 7 p.m.
  • Washington Capitals vs. St. Louis Blues – 7 p.m.
  • New York Islanders at Carolina Hurricanes – 7 p.m.

It is a full slate of games on Saturday leading into the Flyers meeting with Arizona at 10, the last Eastern Conference team to take the ice on Saturday night. When they do, the other eight teams will have finished their games, which will certainly add some clarity to the playoff picture and how crucial a Flyers win will be.

The Capitals obviously don't factor into this equation any. They have the top spot in the East and have all but locked up the President's Trophy as well. But the remaining eight all sit within seven points of the Flyers and while the results for the Rangers, Panthers and Lightning really hold no bearing on the Flyers, the rest of these games have huge implications.

Here's how things will look for the Flyers based on the results:

  • First off, the Flyers will need a win to remain in the playoff picture unless the Red Wings fall to the Penguins.
  • If the Red Wings lose, the Flyers not only go ahead of Detroit by two points with a win, but also have a game in hand still remaining on Detroit.
  • A Flyers win and a loss for the Islanders in regulation will move the Flyers into the first wildcard spot. The teams will be tied with 87 points in 74 games played and 35 wins in regulation or overtime (barring a shootout win for the Flyers in Arizona), but the Flyers hold the tiebreaker in head-to-head points. The Flyers have five points against the Islanders (2-1-1 record) as compared to four for the Islanders (2-2-0).
  • If the Red Wings defeat the Penguins, the Flyers would need a win to stay in the playoff picture over Detroit. But a win would also move the Flyers to within one point of Pittsburgh. Pending the Islanders result, that could be one point back of third place in the Metro or the first wildcard spot.
  • The Flyers would also still hold a playoff spot with an overtime loss or win and a regulation loss by the Bruins, regardless of what Detroit does. If Detroit wins and Boston loses in regulation, the Red Wings suddenly vault back into third in the Atlantic and Boston is suddenly locked in a race for the wildcard. The Flyers will have two games in hand on Boston when Saturday's action concludes, meaning that a tie with Boston in points would give the Flyers the edge on the final spot.

Got all that? It might be a bit confusing, but the bottom line is that the Flyers need to continue their recent stretch of winning and get a little bit of help from other teams, but not nearly as much as they needed to make this a race again.

In fact, entering Saturday's games, the Flyers have a 76.1 percent chance to make the playoffs according to Sports Club Stats. If all the results go in the Flyers favor — a win in Arizona, a Boston loss, an Islanders loss and a Detroit loss, all in regulation — those odds increase to 93.3 percent.

So this is a Saturday with huge implications for the Flyers, quite possibly the biggest day remaining other than April 9, two weeks from Saturday, the only other day this season where all nine teams are in action. 

The Flyers having to play and win their own game make it all the more crucial. The next most important day on the schedule may be this upcoming Tuesday, March 29. The Flyers are idle, but the four teams within three points of the Flyers — Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh and the New York Islanders — are playing against teams out of the playoff picture.

So sit back, buckle up and enjoy the ride to Flyers After Dark. By the time the Orange and Black hit the ice, we'll know a lot about what this game means to their playoff hopes.

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

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